[Writer and critic, lives in New York.]
The ability of photographs to conjure deep emotion is one of their great strengths. But this power—precisely because it is divorced from narrative, political context, and analysis—is equally a danger. Ironically, the more searing an image… the more misleading it can be.
Photographs excel, more than any other form of either art or journalism, in offering an immediate, viscerally emotional connection to the world…. [We] turn to photographs… for a glimpse of what cruelty, or strangeness, or beauty, or agony, or love, or disease, or natural wonder, or artistic creation, or depraved violence, looks like.
On the Internet all photographs are equal: including doctored, manipulated, or constructed photographs, and those without any meaningful—or with entirely false—contexts.
Photography is a proxy for modern life and its discontents, which may explain some of the high expectations, bitter disappointments, and pure vitriol it has engendered.
Every image of barbarism—of immiseration, humiliation, terror, extermination—embraces its opposite, though sometimes unknowingly. Every image of suffering says not only, “This is so,” but also, by implication: “This must stop.”
…images have become more extreme as political clarity has dissipated; this is, I think, no coincidence…. What happens to documentary photography—to the photography of witness—when it no longer has a politics it can support?
...we’re still not at all sure what photography is: is it news, art, entertainment, documentation, science, or surveillance? It tends to blur all those boundaries, which is exciting, but also bewildering and confusing.
…it is the camera—the still camera, the film camera, the video camera, and now the digital camera—that has done so much to globalize our consciences; it is the camera that brought us the twentieth century’s bad news. Today it is, quite simply, impossible to say, “I did not know”: photographs have robbed us of the alibi of ignorance.