The spring 2004 issue of Modern Painters is out, containing an interview with John Szarkowski, the man who was appointed by Steichen to run the photo program at MOMA and brought us the first large shows by Winogrand, Arbus, and Eggleston:
Q: Do you think photographs become more interesting with time?
A: Most become more interesting with time. Naïve photographs always become more interesting with time. By naïve I mean photographs that were not made with high artistic ambition. On the other hand, if you take the photographs that Steiglitz exhibited at the Albright Gallery in Buffalo in 1910, those pictures have become much less interesting — and they weren’t very interesting to begin with because all they had was artistic ambition. Whereas naïve photographs almost always have something of the world in them. Misdirected artistic ambition can turn into an effort to squeeze the world out so that there is nothing left but aesthetics, because everybody can then plainly see that it is art. It has to be art, because there is nothing else there! [My emphasis]
Szarkowski’s sentiment seems very close to a response to what I see far too often on photo websites: “this work elicits nothing in us but a dreary impression of quality.”