The spirit of the case
Judy Fiskin says that Walker Evans succeeded where his FSA boss Roy Stryker failed "because Evans settled for art. Stryker succumbed to the false promise of photography, strove to represent literally the world’s profusion, and inevitably produced a body of work whose scope seems puny compared to its model." Evans worked in a "more condensed, allusive, and circular manner."
Flannery O'Connor calls it "distortion," and TS Eliot says that it's "pressure" that distinguishes art from experience, and creates a new thing in the world. And in fact, it's this artifice that, according to Michael Chabon, "makes explicit... the yearning... to analogize the world, and at the same time frankly emphasizes the limitations, the confines, of [our] ability to do so.”
Over the years, I’ve had a number of friends who, after we’ve known each other for a while, have put it to me delicately that they don’t “understand” photography as an art form. Most of them actually looked at and enjoyed serious photographs, but they were hung up on the mechanical ease of the medium, particularly when it was viewed in a museum or gallery full of very difficult-to-make paintings and sculptures. One time, after walking around for a couple of hours when I was making some pictures, a guy who is close enough to not worry about offending me said, “You just take pictures of everything, and there’s bound to be something good.” I’m guessing that something similar has happened to almost anyone interested in photographing.
At first, I had a whole bunch of (slightly defensive) answers about the moment of exposure being just the beginning of a process – that one makes numerous important choices in developing film, work printing and editing, and final printing &etc. These are good answers.
But there are better answers, or I guess one better answer, and it has to do with what happens before, rather than after, the shutter is released or the print is fixed.