Off My Shelf: Photography Changes Everything

One of  my bookshelves

Some of the author’s photohistory reference books

One of my favorite book purchases in the last few years is edited by photo curator and author Marvin Heiferman, and called Photography Changes Everything (co-published by aperture foundation and Smithsonian Institution, 2012). The book is “a provocative rethinking of photography’s impact on our culture and our daily lives” — it is an “exploration of the extent to which our lives have been transformed through our interactions with photographic imagery.”

Based on the Smithsonian Institution’s Photography Initiative’s online project, the book includes over two hundred images from their vast pictorial resources. Each short essay in the book is illustrated with a different image, or images, and is written by a different person – some are written by names we all recognize (Hugh Hefner, John Waters), some are by photo historians many of us recognize (Maureen Taylor, Merry Foresta, Blake Stimmson), as well as by museum curators and directors,  publishers, educators, and at least one school-age child.  Each one of them has something to say about photography’s impact on them — and on us.

The six main sections are: [Photography Changes] What We Want, What We See, Who We Are, What we Do, Where We Go, and What We Remember. Consider this sentence from Merry Foresta’s foreword: “In fact, most of the billions of pictures that are taken with cameras every  year are made for purposes that have nothing to do with art.” To this statement, I have to yell Yes!!

This is a book you can pick up at any time and read any part, in any order, and learn something. As I was reading “around,” I began to think about how some Georgia photographs could be used to illustrate how photography (has indeed) changed everything. Within each of the six sections of the book are subheadings, which are where the essays come into play. Without going into detail on those essays, I think these Georgia images could illustrate many of the same concepts.

For instance, under What We Want is an essay on how it changes our relationship to gardens and plants: 


Spanish Bayonet in bloom, stereo view, image made in the studio, c1885, probably by J. N. Wilson, Savannah GA; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth

In the same section, What We Want, is an essay on how it changes the way we interact with and picture each other and in Who We Are is an essay on how it changes our life stories – this image could illustrate either of those: 


Snapshot by an unidentified person, Atlanta, GA, 1914; Judson Barns, Ruth Works, Nancy Hutchins, Louise Richardson, and Charles Harvey; collection E. Lee Eltzroth






In the section on Who We Are are essays on how cultural history is toldhow we perceive ourselves, and on how it changes our public image, this portrait of Dr. Henry Butler, a leader in the African American community, could illustrate any of those essays:

Brockman, Wm. L. photo cropped

Dr. Henry R. Butler, Sr. in his Knights of Pythias uniform, retouched photo by William L. Brockman, 1912, Atlanta, Georgia; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth







In Where We Go is the essay on how we experience architecture, and I believe this wonderful early Kodak photo would be an ideal image to illustrate that idea:


Grand Central Hotel, Waycross, Georgia; photo made with a Kodak #2 camera by an unidentified photographer, ca. 1890; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth

In the section What We Remember is an essay on how photography changes our experience of loss, which could be illustrated by this photograph of a deceased Georgian, using a portrait of him in life:


Postcard, an unidentified deceased person superimposed on a lily, by Lancaster Studio, Atlanta, GA ca.1910; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth

I hope this has given you ideas on how the photographs in your collection(s) can illustrate the concepts conveyed in Photography Changes Everything. Please take the time to investigate that publication to see exactly how those essays interpret those concepts, then consider the possibilites.

Until next time, may your Hunting and Gathering be productive — it may possibly Change Everything about your research!

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material or these images without  written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. The piece can be re-blogged, and excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. This book sounds like a book that I’d really enjoy reading. I like how it can be picked up and read in small parts. I just requested it from my library.

  2. Good, you will really enjoy it. Very short vignettes but very packed with things to think about. Thanks for reading my post!

  3. I got this book about a week ago, and have been enjoying reading the essays. When I have a few spare minutes, I open it and read whichever story it happens to open to. The book is giving me a much broader perspective of the role of photography.

  4. Happy to hear it, it is a fun read and I love not having to read it
    in order.

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