In 1978 John Szarkowski, then director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, curated an influential photographic exhibition titled “Mirrors and Windows.” Trying to make sense of U.S. photography since 1960, the exhibition’s premise was that most photographs fall into one of two categories: the “mirror” photograph tells us more about the photographer, the “window” photograph more about the world. “This thesis suggests that there is a fundamental dichotomy in contemporary photography between those who think of photography as a means of self-expression and those who think of it as a means of exploration,” Szarkowski wrote. Some of the most interesting images exhibited overlapped as both mirror and window, and were shown in a separate room.
The exhibition argued that the camera’s mechanical recording of the external world did not guarantee that the photograph’s subject was not, in fact, the photographer.

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