..a photography which is able to relate a tin of canned food to the universe, yet cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which that tin exists; a photography which even in its most dreamlike compositions is more concerned with eventual saleability than with understanding… the true facts of this photographic creativity is the advertisement...
[Photography] has become more and more subtle, more and more modern, and the result is that it is now incapable of photographing a tenement or a rubbish heap without transfiguring it. Not to mention a river dam or electric cable factory: in front of these, photography can now only say, “How beautiful!”
The invention of the match around the middle of the nineteenth century brought forth a number of innovations which have one thing in common: one abrupt movement of the hand triggers a process of many steps... Of the countless movements of switching, inserting, pressing, and the like, the “snapping” of the photographer has had the greatest consequences... The camera gave the moment a posthumous shock, as it were.
It is no accident that the portrait was the focal point of early photography. The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge for the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty.
Man is created in the image of God and God’s image cannot be captured by any human machine. Only the divine artist divinely inspired, may be allowed, in a moment of solemnity at the higher call of his genius, to dare to reproduce the divine-human features, but never by means of a mechanical aid ! Here, in all its ponderous vulgarity, treads forth the philistine notion of art, dismissive of every technical consideration yet, sensing its doom as the new technology makes its provocative entry. Nevertheless, it is this fetishistic, fundamentally anti-technical notion of Art which theorists of photography have tussled for almost a century without, of course, achieving the slightest result.
...it was this fetishistic, fundamentally anti-technological concept of art with which the theoreticians of photography sought for almost a hundred years to do battle, naturally without coming to the slightest result. For this view understood nothing except to accredit the photographer before the exact tribunal he had overthrown.
The limits of photography cannot yet be predicted. Everything to do with it is still so new that even initial exploration may yield strikingly creative results. Technical expertise is obviously the tool of the pioneer in this field. The illiterates of the future will be the people who know nothing of photography rather than those who are ignorant of the art of writing.
However skillful the photographer, however carefully he poses his model, the spectator feels an irresistible compulsion to look for the tiny spark of chance, of the here and now, with which reality has, as it were, seared the character in the picture; to find that imperceptible point at which, in the immediacy of that long-past moment, the future so persuasively inserts itself that, looking back, we may rediscover it.
The creative in photography is capitulation to fashion. The world is beautiful—that is its watchword. Therein is unmasked the posture of photography that can endow a soup can with cosmic significance but cannot grasp a single one of the human connexions in which it exists, even where the most far-fetched subjects are concerned with saleability than insight.
The camera will become smaller and smaller, more and more prepared to grasp fleeting, secret images whose shock will bring the mechanism of association in the viewer to a complete halt. At this point captions must begin to function, captions which understand the photography which turns all the relations of life into literature, and without which all photographic construction must remain bound in coincidences.
To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics.
One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. Both processes are intimately connected with the contemporary mass movements...
I remember that for some California photography exhibition in the 1980s, someone interviewed Robert Fichter, who described the photo community as being like a lovely little sun-drenched Greek Island. I thought that was really generous. I thought it more Appalachia than Santorini: some dank mountain valley where brothers have been screwing their sisters for generations, and everybody talks a little bit funny.