The judgment seat of photography

One further consideration remains. Szarkowski’s comparison of the bulk of the photographic production of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to an “untended garden” and a “genetic pool of possibilities” hints that, indeed, he regards the development of photography as “something pretty close to an organic issue.” Reaching for a suitable analogy, he likens his search for photography’s main tradition to “that line which makes the job of curator rather similar to the job of a taxonomist in a natural history museum. Can one say, then, that Szarkowski conceives of photography as endowed with an essential nature, determined by its origins and evident in what he calls an “evolutionary line of being”?

...[the] formal isolation and cultural legitimation of the “great undifferentiated whole” of photography—is the disquieting message handed down from the museum’s judgment seat.

Phillips, C. (1989). The judgment seat of photography. In Bolton, R. (Ed.) The Contest of Meaning (pp. 15 – 42). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.