Humanity And Photography

Whatever the moral claims made on behalf of photography, its main effect is to convert the world into a department store or museum-without-walls in which every subject is depreciated into an article of consumption, promoted into an item for aesthetic appreciation. Through the camera, people become customers or tourists of reality -- or _Realites_, as the name of the French photo-magazine suggests, for reality is understood as plural, fascinating, and up for grabs. Bringing the exotic near, rendering the familiar and homely exotic, photographs make the entire world available as an object of appraisal. For photographers who are not confined to projecting their own obsessions, there are arresting moments, there are beautiful subjects everywhere. The most heterogenous subjects are then brought together in the fictive unity offered by the ideology of humanism. Thus, according to one critic, the greatness of Paul Strand's pictures from the last period of his life -- when he turned from the brilliant discoveries of the abstracting eye to the touristic world-anthologizing tasks of photography -- consists in the fact that "his people, whether Bowery derilect, Mexican peon, New England farmer, Italian peasant, French artisan, Breton or Hebrides fisherman, Egyptian fellahin, the village idiot or the great Picasso, are all touched by the same heroic quality -- humanity." What is this humanity? It is a quality things have in common when they are viewed as photographs.

-- SusanSontag