Claire Yaffa: Thoughts of Photographers for Philosophers and Dreamers, Chapter Four

Claire Yaffa took her first photograph 45 years ago when her son was 18 months old and it was the beginning of her journey, first as a mother, then as a photographer. She has worked extensively for The New York Times and Associated Press. Her photographs have appeared in countless influential publications and have been exhibited at major venues in the US and around the world.

Leica Notebook, Chapter Four

In reading the comments of some of the great photographers, I was impressed with the similarity of advice in taking a photograph and how one should try to live one’s life. This is a beginning of my exploration of why photographers, poets, philosophers and dreamers search in the landscape of life. Do they feel or see things others do not? Living with memories, photographs help us remember. It is the yes of Molly Bloom in Ulysses and other heroines in literature and life, reaffirming we were here. The photograph gives us a presence of a memory. Minor White has said, “all photographs are self portraits”. I believe life itself is a photograph, challenging us to look, feel the beauty which surrounds us and acknowledge the pathos over which we have no control. I feel photography helps us to live our life, justifying the reason why we are here, perhaps helping to make a difference in the lives of others, either in the beauty captured or the recognition and recording of the injustices and prejudices in our world.

Edward Steichen once wrote of photography, “I believe it is the best medium for explaining man to himself and to his fellow man”. Photography is made so easy and accessible today. Everyone has a camera and seems to be taking photographs, perhaps not realizing fully the significance of photography and the messages it has for us.

In our technical and digital world, the once sacred scrapbook has been replaced by our images on the computer. We photograph life’s celebrations before they disappear. Photographs are an affirmation of our lives, that we were here. Thoughts of photographers apply not just to photography. It is this concept I am beginning to explore in Leica Notebook. Paul Strand said, “photography moves toward the common goal, life”.

Stieglitz exclaims, “my teachers have been life, work, continuous experiment and hard thinking”. Kertesz felt that his everyday life was infused with personal meaning. He said, “you don’t see the things you photograph, you feel them”. He tried with his photography to give order to his  rapidly changing world as he made a visual diary of his life. He exclaimed, “the subject of my art is me”.  He used the camera to explore and understand relationships to people and things around him. He wanted to “translate the precipitous rhythm of everyday life”. He explained, “the way I photograph is who I have become”.

Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke of photography as a sketch book. He said, “in order to give a meaning to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the viewfinder”. He felt that before one takes a photograph, there had to be an attitude of concentration, a discipline, and a sensitivity to the world around us. He saw photography as a way of life. People and photographers deal with things that are continually vanishing, seeing poetry as the essence of everything. He said, “we cannot develop and print a memory” but we can ‘take’ a photograph to remind us of what was”. Photography, he expressed, was a diary of who we are. It records what we feel and see. As an affirmation of life, it says, “I was here”.

As a photograph yellows with age, there may be no one left to remember, but the photograph is a way of denying life’s impermanence. Henri Cartier-Bresson says, “to take photographs is to hold one’s breath … it is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis … it is a way of life … one must seize the moment in its fullness” not just “taking” the photograph, but living life to the fullest.

-Claire Yaffa

You can also see more of Claire’s work on her website, www.claireyaffa.com.