[Philosopher, b. 1926, Atlanta, Georgia, lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.]
Under examination by the camera, a human body becomes for its inhabitant a field of betrayal more than a ground of communication, and the camera’s further power is manifested as it documents the individual’s self-conscious efforts to control the body each time it is conscious of the camera’s attention to it.
The development of fast film allowed the subjects of our photographs to be caught unawares, beyond our or their control. But they are nevertheless caught; the camera holds the last lanyard of control we would forgo.
So far as photography satisfied a wish, it satisfied a wish not confined to painters, but a human wish, intensifying since the Reformation, to escape subjectivity and metaphysical isolation—a wish for power to reach this world, having for so long tried, at last hopelessly, to manifest fidelity to another... Photography overcame subjectivity in a way undreamed of by painting, one which does not so much defeat the act of painting as escape it altogether: by automatism, by removing the human agent from the act of reproduction.
One impulse of photography, as immediate as its impulse to extend the visible, is to theatricalize its subjects. The photographer’s command, “Watch the birdie!” is essentially a stage direction.