Photos Not Taken

Three photographers describe the most poignant pictures they never took

| September / October 2004

Nan Goldin on the photograph she never took of the death of her friend, the writer and artist David Wojnarowicz, who died from AIDS in 1992

He was lying on the bed. He had pearls on. He was holding them up in his hands, [and] he was describing something. Then his eyes were closed and he would be quiet. I loved him. He was a beautiful man, very tall and very skinny. I have some beautiful pictures of him. But it didn't feel right in my stomach. We weren't in the same reality at that time. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever taken LSD? He was hallucinating from dying. I don't know what medication he was on. I'm sure he was on some kind, to help him die without too much pain.

All the people that I photographed dying of AIDS gave me their consent, but I never asked Dave. I know that he liked my work; in his book I'm one of the first people that he thanks. I don't know. I didn't want to hurt him, even if he wasn't 100 percent conscious.

I remember the pictures that I haven't taken much better than those I took. When I don't take a picture, there is frustration involved. I have a vivid memory of the moment that I didn't photograph.

Stanley Greene on the photograph he never took of the execution of a Chechen man

This man's clothes were kind of muddy, and he was a little bloody, and it looked as if he hadn't shaved for a while. But you could tell that once he was a good dresser and he must have been one of the opposition pro-Moscow Chechens.