The discourse of photography has a habit of seeing its own present problems as unique, and its own moment as the most intellectually nuanced and radical. This failing leads it to underestimate continually the sophistication of its past, and to see itself as entirely separate from it. I am reminded of a suggestive and elegant reply Umberto Eco once made to the question about the merits of study:
"We often have to explain to young people why study is useful. It’s pointless telling them that it’s for the sake of knowledge, if they don’t care about knowledge. Nor is there any point in telling them that an educated person gets through life better than an ignoramus, because they can always point to some genius who, from their standpoint, leads a wretched life. And so the only answer is that the exercise of knowledge creates relationships, continuity and emotional attachments. It introduces us to parents other than our biological ones. It allows us to live longer, because we don’t just remember our own life but also those of others. It creates an unbroken thread that runs from our adolescence (and sometimes from infancy) to the present day. And all this is very beautiful."
Umberto Eco, “It’s not what you know …” The Guardian, April 3, 2004Read the entire piece here, as well as Campany's other recent entries.