The Mother on Photography

Modern photography has become an art and, like all other arts, it can effectively express the inner feelings and the soul, with a true sense of beauty.


Photography is an art when the photographer is an artist.

-The Mother – On Education

Photography is said to be a medium of modern art. What is your opinion about this?

It all depends on the way in which photography is used. Its natural purpose and common use is documentary; the more exact and precise it is, the more useful it is. But undeniably, there are artists who use photography as a medium of expression. But then what they do is no longer an exact copy of Nature, it is an arrangement of forms and colours intended to express something else which is usually hidden by physical appearances.

– 4 September 1969, The Mother – On Thoughts and Aphorisms

What has made art what it is (do you want me to tell you this, psychologically?) is photography. Photographers did not know their job and gave you hideous things, frightfully ugly; it was mechanical, it had no soul, it had no art, it was horrible. All the first attempts of photography until… not very long ago, were like that. It is about fifty years ago that it became tolerable, and now with gradual improvement it has become something good; but it must be said that the process is absolutely different. In those days, when your portrait was taken, you sat in a comfortable chair, you had to sit leaning nicely and facing an enormous thing with a black cloth, which opened like this towards you. And the man ordered, “Don’t move! Steady!”

That, of course, was the end of the old painting. When the painter made something lifelike, a lifelike portrait, his friends said, “Why now, this is photography!”

– The Mother – Questions and Answers 1950 – 1951

Why are today’s painters not so good as those of the days of Leonardo da Vinci?

Because human evolution goes in spirals. I have explained this. I said that art had become an altogether mercenary affair, obscure and ignorant, from the beginning of the last century till its middle. It had become something very commercial and quite remote from the true sense of art. And so, naturally, the artistic spirit does not come! It followed bad forms, yet it tried to manifest to counteract the degradation of taste which prevailed. But naturally, as with every movement of Nature in man, some having gone to one extreme, others went to the other extreme; and as these made a sort of servile copy of life—not even that, in those days it was called “a photographic view” of things, but now one can no longer say that, for photography has progressed so much that it would be doing it an injustice to say this, wouldn’t it? Photography has become artistic; so a picture cannot be criticised by calling it photographic; nor can one call it “realistic” any longer, for there is a realistic painting which is not at all like that—but it was conventional, artificial and without any true life, so the reaction was to the very opposite, and naturally to another absurdity: “art” was no longer to express physical life but mental life or vital life. And so came all the schools, like the Cubists and others, who created from their head. But in art it is not the head that dominates, it is the feeling for beauty. And they produced absurd and ridiculous and frightful things. Now they have gone farther still, but that, that is due to the wars—with every war there descends upon earth a world in decomposition which produces a sort of chaos. And some, of course, find all this very beautiful and admire it very much.

-The Mother – Questions and Answers, 1953

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