The Words Keep The Pictures Honest

For me writing is so very close to photography and at times I find the line between the two almost indistinguishable. I write before, during and after I make photographs and there are times when a photograph only exists as words in one of my little notebooks. In fact I have dozens of books filled with these photographs and there are many times when an image lives best as a collection of words. A great writer whom I used to work for just after I graduated school once told me writing keeps you honest. Last night I enjoyed reading Hunter Thompson's thoughts about writing in his book of essays Songs Of The Doomed. I always read Hunter Thompson as fast as I can, somehow it makes it better, his writing makes more sense and at times has new meaning when read that way.

"But until the [Hell's] Angels I had always been writing in the same mold as other newspaper hacks and I thought that was the way to do it. With the Angels, however, there was a freedom to use words. I'm a word freak. I like words. I've always compared writing to music. That's the way I feel about good paragraphs. When it really works, it's like music. In sportswriting, you have the freedom to use really aggressive words. There's a whole breadth of vocabulary. The Angels gave me that same feeling, like hot damn, the thing was rolling right in front of you. You could touch them on their cycles, you could hear them, and you could see the fear and fright in citizens' faces. And so I took that first $1,500 and went out and bought a motorcycle. At that point it was the fastest bike ever tested in Hot Rod magazine. And then I destroyed the son of a bitch.

I found out then that writing is a kind of therapy. One of the few ways I can almost be certain I'll understand something is by sitting down and writing about it. Because by forcing yourself to write about it and putting it down in words, you can't avoid having to come to grips with it. You might be wrong, but you have to think about it very intensely to write about it. So I use writing as a learning tool."

I think the true test of how cohesive a body of work is, if it really works and the images flow from one to the next and the group as a whole performs how you the photographer, the creator, intend it to is when you write that statement. When you put it in words what the project represents or embodies, it is the words that the images have to stand up to. It is the words that make it complete and allow you to see the work in a whole new light. The words keep the pictures honest.