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Photographers are like other artists too in being reticent because they are afraid that self-analysis will get in the way of making more art. They never fully know how they got the good pictures that they have, but they suspect that a certain innocence may have been necessary. The poet X.J. Kennedy speaks of his in his amusing verse “Ars Poetica”:

The goose that laid the golden egg
Died looking up its crotch
To find out how its sphincter worked.
Would you lay well? Don’t watch.

The main reason that artists don’t willingly describe or explain what they produce is, however, that the minute they do so they’ve admitted failure. Words are proof that the vision they had is not, in the opinion of some at least, fully there in the picture. Characterizing in words what they thought they’d shown is an acknowledgement that the photograph is unclear – that it is not art.

C.S. Lewis admitted, when he was asked to set forth his beliefs, that he never felt less sure of them than when he tried to speak of them. Photographers know this frailty. To them words are a pallid, diffuse way of describing and celebrating what matters. Their gift is to see what will be affecting as a print. Mute.


— Robert Adams, Writing, from Why People Photograph