“What good is a book that does not even carry us beyond all books?”—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1887)
What good is a photograph that does not even carry us beyond all photographs? If I take a picture of the Mountain, it’s because I want to encourage you to go to the Mountain. If I take a picture of the River, it’s because I want to encourage you to go to the River. If I take a picture of some stunning street art, it’s because I want to encourage you to go see it for yourself. A photograph of a breathtaking Montreal mural is no substitute for the experience of actually standing in front of one of these beautiful works of art.
Good photographs point past themselves (like good books, and travel brochures); they deepen our understanding of, and increase our appreciation for, the world around us. Bad photographs have precisely the opposite effect; they distort our understanding of, and decrease our appreciation for, the real world (which never seems to measure up).
Were he alive today, the author of Émile (1762) would no doubt maintain that bad photographs are, at bottom, a corrupting influence upon the imagination. And he’d be right. Bad photographs tell us lies about the world—pernicious, photoshopped lies—which make the real world, the only one we ever really have, seem bland and boring by comparison.
—John Faithful Hamer, The Village Explainer (2016)