Magnum quotes

My favourite quotes from Magnum photographers.

My photography is a reflection, which comes to life in action and leads to meditation. Spontaneity – the suspended moment – intervenes during action, in the viewfinder.


Emotion or feeling is really the only thing about pictures I find interesting. Beyond that it is just a trick.

Christopher Anderson

If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.

–Eve Arnold

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On motivations

Upon reading Ken Light’s wonderful book, Witness in Our Time: Working Lives of Documentary Photographers, I felt forced to think again and again of my motivations for doing photography. One interesting point of this book was, that many photographers revisit their own life’s conflicts and find them in lives of other people. So, if someone spent his childhood at war, experiencing violence, hatred, starvation and suffering of many kinds, he is more sensitive to these feelings and he can relate himself to people in similar situations. Of course, it’s not a general rule, there are many notable exceptions, but it is indeed a good point.

So, what do I bring from my childhood and youth? Although I was grown up in the communist Eastern Europe, I didn’t feel oppressed at all. I was a child, and I got everything a child needs, however poor was my family. Also, I was a talking type guy, so my parents didn’t really share their (distressful) opinion about the system  with me. We were poor, but we always had a place to sleep and something to eat, at least a slice of bread.

However, as I grew older, I realized one feeling inside my soul, that’s quite peculiar to Eastern Europe, especially to Hungary. That feeling was hopelessness. The feeling that whatever you do, it doesn’t matter, you cannot really change your life’s course. And you don’t really get anything to ease this feeling. Small communities destroyed, religion dying, taxes high, mobility low. Many people think that there is no way to escape, there is just one path to take. The path of grayness, the path of lukewarm boring life, the path of lost chances…

That’s what I’m very sensitive of. Hopelessness and the effort to overcome this devastating feeling.

A new beginning

Leave a stone, leave your life, choose a new one. Pick a stone, carry it with you, hold it in your hand, and leave it. Watch it lying on the ground, watch it as your past life, as something that happened and now it’s gone. Years are lying there, good and bad years, but all of them are past years. That’s the right way to look at the stone.

I have to look at my friends, my experiences, my conflicts, my work, my portfolio this way. Every night, I have to leave a stone, and go to sleep. Past as a stone behind… peaceful sleep.

The samurai code

The way of the samurai is found in death.

That is one of the first sentences of Hagakure, the book of the samurai, and I couldn’t get it out of my head while I was walking the way of St. Jacob. The samurai analogy suits photographers suprisingly well.

First, and this is the more obvious thought, we can relate the sword of the samurai, or the katana to the camera, which cuts out a moment from the continuous fabric of time. You have to find the right moment, the right situation, to press the shutter, and you have to develop tactics and strategy to get to this moment. And if you miss it, you cannot bring it back.

The second point is more subtle, for it concerns the way of the samurai itself. A philosophy, which can achieve the state of living in the present, and also preparing for the future. Preparing for it, but not being afraid of it. This notion can be illustrated by another quote from Hagakure:

It is good to carry some powdered rouge in one’s sleeve. It may happen that when one is sobering up or waking from sleep, his complexion may be poor. At such a time it is good to take out and apply some powdered rouge.

As I borrowed my view of the past from a stone, I get my view of the present and future from the samurai.