One of the perennial questions in photography is how to explain the relationship between a photograph and the world — or between the photograph and some specific part of the world (the subject). It is understood that the photograph is in some respect like a copy but is not actually a copy as such; no photograph is either as pure or as boring as a perfect copy would be.

Here’s my suggestion, for today anyway, for how to explain the difference:

To make a photograph is not to copy the world, but to abridge it, or to edit it. We read the world, and when we achieve a moment of recognition in response to some part of the world, we use the camera to excerpt it, to underline it — or to angrily strike it through.

Unfortunately, these marks are relatively unlikely to be incorporated into a new draft of the manuscript, so the photographer is much more like a critic marking up a review copy — or a reader making private notes for himself — than like an editor working in collaboration with the author to refine the work itself.

Of course, that proposed metaphor only covers certain kinds of photography — straight photography, more or less, as opposed to constructed photographs and photographs which are intended to be statements about photography…

Comments are closed.