Mississippi Delta, 2012.
“The photographer is tied to the facts of things, and it is his problem to force the facts to tell the truth. He can not, outside the studio, pose the truth; he can only record it as he found it, and it is found in nature in a fragmented and unexplained form – not as a story, but as scattered and suggestive clues. The photographer can not assemble these clues into a coherent narrative, he can only isolate the fragment, document it, and by doing so claim for it some special significance, a meaning which goes beyond simple description. The compelling clarity with which a photograph records the trivial suggests that the subject has never before been properly seen, that it is in fact not trivial, but filled with undiscovered meaning. If photographs can not be read as stories, they can be read as symbols.
Intuitively, he sought and found the significant detail. His work, incapable of narrative, turned towards symbol. “- John Szarkowski
I love this quote. It gets to the heart of what comprises the unique character of traditional photography as an expressive and creative medium. Even if the expressive truth of a photograph is symbolic, its veracity is premised on the basic distinction between recording the truth and “posing.” Its character as a means of faithful recordation is the bedrock basis of photography’s uniqueness. Of course, when Szarkowski wrote this in 1966 it was premised on the assumption that photography in some sense faithfully records a state of affairs ‘out there.’ Can we still make this assumption now that digital has severed the link to the photograph’s ‘indexicality’?