"When he visited the Plumbe National Daguerrian Gallery in Manhattan in 1846, Walt Whitman was astonished. “What a spectacle!” he wrote. “In whichever direction you turn your peering gaze, you see nought but human faces! There they stretch, from floor to ceiling — hundreds of them.” In the seven years between the invention of the daguerreotype and Whitman’s visit to Plumbe’s, the medium had become popular enough to generate an impressive, and even hectic, stream of images. Now, toward the end of photography’s second century, that stream has become torrential.
“Take lots of pictures!” is how our friends wish us a good trip, and we oblige them. Nearly one trillion photographs are taken each year, of everything at which a camera might be pointed: families, meals, landscapes, cars, toes, cats, toothpaste tubes, skies, traffic lights, atrocities, doorknobs, waterfalls, an unrestrained gallimaufry that not only indexes the world of visible things but also adds to its plenty. We are surrounded by just as many depictions of things as by things themselves."