Some time ago, I posted this fantastic quote about the difference between photography and other kinds of creativity, by the famous street photographer Garry Winogrand:

Still photography is the clumsiest way to exercise imagination, to illustrate literary ideas. Anybody with a pencil beats you. Period. To take a simple illustration of the point: if you wanted a melted watch, how do you get it? Dali can have one anytime he wants. You see? It is the clumsiest way to exercise imagination. It’s tantamount to driving a nail in with a saw, when you can use a hammer.

There’s a lot to love about Winogrand, not the least of which is his definitive dismissal of Susan Sontag on photography (you can find that on the post linked above). But the more I think about this statement above, the more I think Winogrand was wrong.

In part, anyway. He’s dead right that a pencil allows you to choose what to render when you exercise imagination. But the process of executing on that imagination as a painter or a writer is far more soul-crushing an experience than that of the photographer. It’s true that photography involves technique and skill, but the fact remains that bending light through an aperture onto an emulsion is an automated process that requires minimal mechanical effort on the part of the photographic creator. Dali can think a melted watch anytime he wants, but he can’t have one without real effort.

Winogrand himself demonstrates this fact. He shot indiscriminately, leaving behind as many as 300,000 undeveloped images after his death. Such surplus may help explain why he thought photography was “the clumsiest way to exercise imagination,” but even by his own standards, it would have been editing, not photography that won that laurel.

My vote for the clumsiest way to exercise imagination? Writing. And that’s from someone who also programs the computer.

published July 2, 2014