The Eyewitness Tradition

by Ann de Bruyn

Photography is so ubiquitous, universal and essential to the normal functioning of modern life that it is easy to forget it has not been with us forever. We are still less than two hundred years from the birth of photography, and the world has changed almost unimaginably since then. While both science and art, photography’s contact with us all is normalised to such an extent, its role often seems exclusively utilitarian.

George Eastman’s Kodak popularised the family snapshot and, directly or indirectly, inspired millions of amateur enthusiasts globally. A century after Kodak, the smartphone – really a camera with other facilities – has democratised photography. It puts a powerful keystone instrument of science, art and journalism in the hand of billions. As a medium of communication photography has become as universal as the written and spoken word.

As a result, we generally ignore photography’s particular gifts, its strengths, its limitations and its weaknesses.

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