You should first know that none of the pictures were snapshots, that their deepest purpose was more religious than secular, and that commercial photography, as practiced in the 1890’s, was not so much a form of applied technology as it was a semimagical act that symbolically dealt with time and mortality.
Michael Lesy, “Wisconsin Death Trip”, 1973
[Living history] is an imaginative creation, a personal possession which each one of us, Mr. Everyman, fashions out of his individual experience, adapts to his practical or emotional needs, and adorns as well as may be to suit his aesthetic tastes.
Carl Becker, “Everyman His Own Historian”, 19328
Images have sources and antecedents. To turn away from them is to have no image to breathe life into.
Frederick Sommer, “Venus, Jupiter & Mars”, 19809
American photographers came to realizations about the capabilities of their medium in circumstances shaped by history, a history their work in turn helps us better to see and understand. So its is with all art, which, by its character as a formalization of emotion and idea in relation to physical objects, translates history into experience. The dialectic between artworks and cultural process is no different in the case of photographs. Camera-made images have no special privilege as documents of culture. But they have their own resources, different in kind from those of paint or stone or ink and pen.
Alan Trachtenberg, “Reading American Photographs”, 198910
The imagination, like all things in time, is metamorphic. It is also rooted in a ground, a geography. The Latin word for the sacredness of a place is cultus, the dwelling of a god, the place where a rite is valid. Cultus becomes our word culture, not in the portentous sense it now has, but in a much humbler sense. For ancient people the sacred was the vernacular ordinariness of things….
Guy Davenport, “The Geography of the Imagination”, 19811
The sanctification of the local landscape is a fundamental function of mythology. [They turned] the land where they lived into a place of spiritual relevance.
Joseph Campbell, “The Power Of Myth”, 198812