Here is Tod Papageorge’s recent explanation of the relation of photographic picture-making to other creative activities:

“Photography is of course an analytic, not a synthesizing, medium: photographs are commonly produced all-at-once, as light strikes a piece of film. This is unlike the other visual arts, where paintings and related kinds of pictures (including the most rapidly sketched drawing), are built through a process of accretion, stroke by stroke. Writers, too, even the most fluent, parallel these synthesizing procedures as they shape their texts one draft after another, but their practice at least suggests that of photographers, since it involves, in part, an editing process applied to words — and, by extension, to the things that words signify. As W.H. Auden put it, ‘it is both the glory and the shame of poetry that its medium is not its private property, that a poet cannot invent his words,’ an observation also true when applied to photography and the photographer’s inability to invent his “worlds.”

“But where a poet combines, over time (be it minutes or years), the words of a shared language to make a poem, a photographer combines, instantaneously, a jumble of things ‘out there’ (which often share little more than their adjacency) to make a picture. Individual photographs, then, are less like poems than unique ideograms, or picture-complexes that freeze the moment when the objects, air, and dimension framed in a viewfinder are incorporated and fixed together in an unalterable mix by being exposed on film. Because any shift of lens position or subject or light (to say nothing of the camera operator’s concentration) irremediably changes the picture the photographer will make next, his only strategy for clarifying or amending his thinking is to yield it up to making yet another exposure, and, as he does so, to add to an unseen store of images. Unlike the artist or poet, who can revise a given work without accumulating a series of physically distinct versions of that work equal to the number of changes made to it, the photographer builds just such an archive simply by photographing.”

The role of contacts (proofs) in picture-making is substantial; those who are out of film look back on what we do with a hint of nostalgia. Enjoy this summary of the recent exhibit at the Whitney:

The Contact Sheet, by Steve Crist, is another worthwhile overview:

Lastly, in the era when just about everyone dropped film off at the drugstore, “Photo Finishing” was the term that described enlarged printmaking done commercially after the making of the negatives.

Post Script: The first time I encountered the noun “slide” was as a pre-pube science geek: I built a collection of slides, which are the slivers of glass that support whatever is being viewed through the lens of a microscope. Likely, when illuminated projection of images (on glass) became a medium of presentation, the term was transferred to photography. Now the word has carried over to screens in a PowerPoint presentation.

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