A Photograph Never Stands Alone

Interesting read from NY Times written by Teju Cole. Teju Cole is the magazine’s photography critic and the author, most recently, of the essay collection “Known and Strange Things.” Read more in the full article!

Images make us think of other images. Photographs remind us of other photographs, and perhaps only the earliest photographs had a chance to evade this fate. But soon after the invention of photography, the world was full of photographs, and newly made photographs could not avoid semantic contamination. Each photograph came to seem like a quotation from the great archive of photographs. Even the earliest photographs are themselves now burdened by this reality, because when we look at them, we do so in the knowledge of everything that came after. All images, regardless of the date of their creation, exist simultaneously and are pressed into service to help us make sense of other images. This suggests a possible approach to photography criticism: a river of interconnected images wordlessly but fluently commenting on one another.

A photograph can’t help taming what it shows. We are accustomed to speaking about photographs as though they were identical to their subject matter. But photographs are also pictures — organized forms on a two-dimensional surface — and they are part of the history of pictures. A picture of something terrible will always be caught between two worlds: the world of “something terrible,” which might shock us or move us to a moral response, and the world of “a picture,” which generates an aesthetic response. The dazzle of art and the bitterness of life are yoked to each other. There is no escape.

 

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