I would like to add some thoughts to my previous posting, in which I explained that at the age of 87 I have spent half my life as a freelance photographer specializing in coverage of business and industry. ‘I have spent even more time just thinking about the medium and how and when it is most productively employed.
Photography of course has a place in commerce. The camera’s ability to show fine detail and its inherent sharpness make it ideal for producing illustrations of food, fabrics, and many other commercial products whose texture is a valued component.
Beyond that—and more importantly--I believe photography is at its best when it documents the human condition and the environment in which human society maintains itself. All of which makes me first an admirer of Lewis Hine, whose photos early in the 20th century documented prepubescent children slaving in coal mines and in cotton mills. His photos provoked the creation of modern child labor laws and restored to children their childhoods.
Imagine if Mr. Hine had been greeted at the gates of those mines and mills with the admonition that photography was prohibited. And that kids must slave on unseen by the public—producing no enlightened child labor laws for many more years.
And in the arts. Suppose the great landscape photographer Ansel Adams had been stopped at the borders of Yosemite National Park and told that photography of its interior was prohibited. Alas, we would have no brilliant Adam images of a moon rising over Half Dome. Or that he was told that he must not photograph the birch groves there because some terrorist might see them and set them afire. What a loss to art!
Going back a few hundred years, we have Francisco Goya, the socially conscious Spanish painter so well know for his ability to document the events of this time—and his being told, sorry, Paco. No drawing here. We would have no powerful drawings of his “Horrors of War.” Nor would have the provocative painting of of those Madrilenos being mowed down by French musket soldiers. Another loss for art.
More recently I can see poor Mr. Van Gogh, painting in a field of sunflowers being hauled away because he was seated on “private property.” No entry permitted.’
It boggles the mind but this is the kind of inanity we have come to. The camera is more than simply a recording instrument. It is A powerful tool for the creation of art and, most importantly, social change. It has come, irrationally, under fire by the troglodytes of our own time, who possess little imagination and no concern for the what the camera left unfettered may yet produce. Humanity loses.