“You’re good, but you could be better” [S. Sontag]
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The personal photographs
It’s my most important work. It’s the most intimate. It tells the best story, and I care about it. I found myself totally taken over by the personal work. I thought it was so strong and so moving.
Photographing her family
Photography was always family-based for me. My mother and father made eight-millimeter films when we were kids. And my mother made sure that there was an official family portrait every few years.
On why she became a photographer
I wasn’t one of those people who always wanted to be a photographer and started when they were twelve. For me it came from wanting to do art, which is something I became aware of when I was at the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1960s. There was something wonderful about the whole process—the immediacy of taking pictures, and the license it gave you to go out in the world.
The influence of other photographers
The first book that made me realize what it meant to be a photographer was The World of Henri Cartier- Bresson. Robert Frank and Cartier-Bresson were the chief influences at the San Francisco Art Institute when I was there. Their style of personal reportage—taken in a graphic, very composed way—was what we were taught to emulate. Another of my favorite photography books was Jacques-Henri Lartigue’s Diary of a Century. Lartigue photographed his life through his family. It’s all there. Then after I started working for Rolling Stone I became much more conscious of what was being done in magazines. The strongest graphic work was in the fashion magazines—Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar. That’s where the conceptual work was. And I started looking at Richard Avedon’s portraits. Avedon was a very important photographer in my life, a powerful example. He managed to ride both horses. He worked for magazines and he still did his own work. He was a stunning portrait photographer—a great artist. Irving Penn also. I admire and respect Penn so much. Barbara Morgan’s dance pictures fascinated me. Her collaboration with Martha Graham was extraordinary. As far as magazine photography goes, W. Eugene Smith’s photo essays for Life magazine can’t be topped. Helmut Newton is a great example of how what you’re made of affects the work and feeds into it. A lot of photographers try to emulate Helmut but they can never look like him. Nan Goldin was very important to me also. Her work reminded me that color could be relaxed.
The Susan Sontag’s influence on her work
I think she came into my life at the right time. I wanted to do better things, take photographs that matter. She told me, “you’re good, but you could be better.”
Capturing the essence of a subject
What I’m doing as a photographer is getting a little tiny slice of them. Life is so much more complicated than this one-dimensional moment.
On being called a “celebrity” photographer
That’s so strange to me. I hate the word “celebrity.” I’ve always been more interested in what people do than who they are, and I hope that my photographs reflect that. I have the opportunity to work with people who are the best actors, and writers, and athletes, and dancers— a broad spectrum. I feel like I’m photographing people who matter, in one way or another. I’m photographing my time.