Below are various quotes I highlighted this week while reading Richard Benson's The Printed Picture. The book purports to be a comprehensive survey of printing, but I think it is actually a history of photography in disguise.
"All photography is fictional, by which I mean that any photograph is a picture, not the world from which is was generated. But these little bits of early photography [tintypes] pull that fiction closer to the world than any other pictures known. Many other photographic techniques make pictures that 'look' more like the world, but the early direct-positive photographs on glass and metal bear the actual stain of light from the past."
"A great platinum or palladium print is a wonder, and can convey photographic description in a manner unlike any other process. The secret here is not to judge these prints by comparison to other processes but to view them by themselves. Comparison drags things being judged down to their common denominators, and clouds our eyes to the special qualities of each one."
"We simply have to mention sepia toning. It is probably the worst thing that has ever happened to photographs but, like neckties and hair dye, it's out there and has long been around to make things look silly."
"In some ways we can say that the history of photography has been one of steadily shortening focal lengths. From the classical, distanced view of the painter, photographic description shifted to encompass wider and wider angles of view. Both Eugene Atget, the great French photographer who so often worked in cramped spaces, and George Eastman, the American entrepreneur, moved photography a huge step in this direction through their adoption of radically descriptive wide-angle lenses."
"Woodblocks printing, engraving, etching, lithography, and even the more basic picture-making practices of drawing and painting —all of these technologies were tremendously influential in their day, but each has moved away from the broad cultural forefront and shifted over into the narrower realm of art. This is happening now with photography: the new digital methods convey a great deal of photographic description, but they don't look quite like chemical photography, and they will look less and less like the chemical forms as digital photography evolves. There will always be artists using the earlier technology in vital and effective ways, to make pictures that simply can't be produced with the new methods. Art is like some sort of backward country where old cars are sent to be kept running indefinitely, while modern times and new models race on ahead elsewhere."
"We must be very clearheaded about this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with altering or otherwise doctoring a photograph in the computer. Photographs cannot be relied upon to render any sort of truth about the world from which they have been made..."