What is truly sensational about the invention of photography is that it bridges the gap between the physical world and its pictorial representation in a way which is not exclusively dependent on man’s artistic fantasy or his creative ability. And in this sense, no one produces a photograph without letting this physical principle behind the camera take over the action, at the precise moment when the picture is made.
If the photographer did not stand apart from this physical genesis, he would then be the sole creator of the photograph and his pictures could then, like those of an artist, lay claim only to some ideal significance. They could not claim to be physically verifiable. But the physical verifiability is exactly what we demand of a photograph.
The World Exhibition of Photography would also like to keep alive the spirit of Edward Steichen’s wonderful ideas and of his memorable collection, The Family of Man. With that undertaking, Steichen led photography out of the hobbyist’s domain and gave it a great theme. Through him and for the first time, the thematic subjects in a photographic collection became more important than photography.
Seeing is the most important trick of modern photography. If anyone wants to achieve anything in photography today, the scales must have dropped from his eyes – the machine does the rest. It is not so crucially important that a person has a particular style or is a master of various pictorial gimmicks, as that he – in the biblical sense – does not belong to the people who have eyes but who cannot see. What makes modern photography is an object whose true nature cannot be recorded in a purely mechanical way. Whoever wants to take it, must first grasp it.
Photography demands the same basic predisposition from the spectator. It is of the greatest misconceptions to imagine that photography is a kind of poor man’s Bible, a “Funnel of Nuremberg” which pours into the eyes of the poor in spirit all that he is incapable of mastering with his intellect. Photography cannot oblige anyone to see whatever transcends the three-dimensional aspects of the object. Beyond that limit, man sees only what he knows. The larger view of photography of the spirit only takes effect in proportion to and in so far as the spectator possesses a certain experience. A photograph may embody human experience, present decades or centuries, it can render visible something of the structure of our being, through it we may happen upon something of our own human destiny, and come into contact with varied forms of live, and discover its possibilities… Photographs may represent the immense content of life to us, but all this only if we too have had some part in the context of life from which the pictures spring. The achievement of photography resides in the fact that it can awaken within us, all of a sudden, the experience which was perhaps hidden from us until then, and that it confronts us with the knowledge in ourselves. I can only see the inward nature of a photo-portrait when due to my own experience I have some conception of inward nature.