Did art start with illuminated manuscripts or Goya’s political satire? Was it in the eyes, as the ancient Sumerians perceived? The eyes lead us to the soul, the immortal part of identity. It must have started in the Garden, all that seeing. Then, of course, someone wanted to make it better or easier, more authentic, transparent or enduring. Another held up her hand to the world and said, “Leave me to my room.” In all this, necessity, the great mother of Art, gives birth again and again, each time prescribing the same ritual of painful elation, the same bloody mess. And, we make more. We see more. We see too much.
In the same way that print and digital images in media are normal for us, in fact these images are especially expected by the modern viewer, the early experimenters of photography laid the foundation for an entire way of seeing and viewing.
During the mid 19th century, on the eve of that revolution, the nascent form of realism and idealism took form in paper photography. Charles Nègre and Henri Le Secq ran the streets of Paris taking pictures of the poor and desolate. Needing expediency and portability of the imagery they wanted to show the world, Nègre and Le Secq moved from Daguerreotyping to printing, for the first time, on paper, using salt. Such ingenuity could only be the product of constraints and demands: a new need for immediacy.
Today we cannot live without our cameras and devices to document our dinner salads and cats. Some of us are looking beyond our plates and pets to the timeless measures of humanity. It’s a cycle. Culture invents itself through our own narcissism and gets inverted the moment the container is too small for the masses. Without the Grand Narratives, exclusion is forbidden. We wish to see ourselves again and again, and preferably, forever. Don’t laugh! It’s in our nature.