We must come to understand the extent to which lenses shape, filter, and otherwise alter the data which passes through them the extreme degree to which the lens itself informs our information. This influence, though radical in many cases, often manifests itself subtly. Yet even the most blatant distortions tend to be taken for granted as a result of the enduring cultural confidence in the essential trustworthiness and impartiality of what is in fact a technology resonant with cultural bias and highly susceptible to manipulation.
More and more, lately, I’ve seen shows—not just in galleries, but even in museums—by young photographers hot off the press whose bodies of work have little to say and lack any distinction beyond their statistically unique amalgamations of facets of their mentors and other influences. In their early or middle twenties, they already have lists of exhibition and publication credits as long as your arm. Many have already been academically recycled and are actually teaching, thus perpetuating this syndrome.
As members of a photographic culture, we lug around a lot of psychic and emotional baggage: the past is always with us, in the form of our photographs, which we tell as we might a rosary, wearing them smooth with the fingering of our eyes. Photographs are small and weightless objects in comparison with our larger possessions, but unlike cars and TV sets and other material goods we cannot trade our photographs in and break our attachments to them without considerable pain. It is no coincidence that one cardinal rule in brainwashing is to remove from the victim all photographs of himself and people he has known...
Any photographer worth his/her salt—that is, any photographer of professional caliber, in control of the craft, regardless of imagistic bent—can make virtually anything “look good.” Which means, of course, that she or he can make virtually anything “look bad”—or look just about any way at all. After all, that is the real work of photography: making things look, deciding how a thing is to appear in the image.
Photography is, in its relation to the casual camera user, an inordinately generous medium. Most anyone who exposes a goodly amount of film (or even a small amount regularly) ends up with a certain proportion of negative which, appropriately rendered in print form, could provide images of at least passing interest.