on what a photograph is, again

“Beaumont Newhall released a revised edition of his History of Photography, where he had a chapter called “Recent Trends”. It was supposed to be the trends of the twentieth century. And he had four recent trends, and they were, as I recall; the straight photograph, the document, the formalist photograph, and the equivalent. And so it’s Paul Strand as the straight photograph, and maybe Cartier-Bresson as the document, or Walker Evans as the document, and Steiglitz as the equivalent, or maybe the formalist is Walker Evans. Whatever. But that’s the point. It’s that, to me, someone like Walker Evans is all of them. And that you could even look at Walker Evans as the equivalent, in Steiglitz, Minor White terms. Except that he’s drawing his metaphor not from nature, but from the complexity of the built environment, which may allow for a different kind of equivalent. So I thought, “Why can’t a photograph be all four things at once?” –be an art object; be a document, what ever that means exactly, but deal with content; be a formalist exploration; and operate on some, metaphor is not the right word but, resonant level..”

Stephen Shore

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