From its very beginnings, photography has been all about pushing boundaries. Technical and technological boundaries, for one: continuous advancements of a chemical, physical, and mechanical nature have enabled cameras to capture the world with increasing quality and detail. Never before could reality be documented with such a sense of authenticity and nearness.
On an artistic and aesthetic level as well, photographic images have opened up new possibilities and directions. In an unremitting dialogue with the visual arts, photography at first augured to become the most effective tool of artists in pursuit of realism, but quickly declared its creative, imaginative powers: by adapting lighting or exposure, adding color or using specific lenses, photographers proved able to transform a seemingly ordinary representation of everyday life into an ingenious work of art – in its turn inspiring and invigorating painters and sculptors.
Photography has made geographic borders fade too: images from exotic destinations have brought faraway places palpably close, while homely pictures and portraits of loved ones were found powerful antidotes to melancholy and nostalgia. To photography, we also owe a broader view and deeper knowledge of physical reality: as early as the mid-19th century, photomicrography has revealed elements invisible to the naked eye, while from the last quarter of the 19th century onwards, images taken from hot-air balloons have allowed for a panoramic worldview and colored underwater photographs have – starting from the 1920s – uncovered a whole new realm of nature. Photographs not only have erased boundaries of space, but of time as well: images have the power to erase breaches in family history, to fix damaged or lost memories, to bring the past into the present or to transport us back in time.
In all its capacities, photography has – throughout its existence – built bridges between nations and individuals: by showing life as it is or was, displaying people’s characteristics and idiosyncrasies, pictures do highlight apparent differences, but lay bare common foundations as well – in dealing with life’s joys and sorrows, all men turn out much alike.