Photography has become an indispensable tool in nearly all fields of human activity. As a witness of places, times and events, it records with an exactness beyond the scope of any other visual means. Because of the magnitude and variety of these functions, its esthetic potentialities are sometimes overlooked. When practised by the artist, photography becomes a medium capable of giving form to ideas and incisive expression to emotions. The photographer is served by a technique differing completely from that practised by the painter, who begins with blank surface and then by more or less complicated procedures, always under complete control, is able gradually to achieve a growth and realization of his concept. The photographer begins with a completed image; and compared with the painter, the controls available to him are hardly worth the mention. By the same token there are no primitive or archaic phases in photography. The process itself was born as a completed achievement and most of the earliest photography suffers little by comparison with that of today. The Museum of Modern Art was the first museum to make the art of photography an important part of its program; and the inclusion of the following pages in this book again demonstrates that this Museum is unique among art museums in the extent of its recognition of photography. While the Museum possesses outstanding examples of some of the earliest photography, its collection is predominantly of twentieth-century prints. It contains the work of widely recognized photographers as well as experimental and exploratory work by newer talents -- work marking a continuing effort to penetrate the surface appearance of reality or seeking to translate into pattern and design the magic detail of a fragment of growth or of deterioration. In the collection, there are prints that give evidence of man's passionate search for truth, rendered with technical precision and mental precision, separately or on occasion together. The swift freezing of a exact instant; the gamut of feeling written on the human face in its contrasts of joy, serenity or despair; the beauty of the earth that man has inherited and the wealth and the confusion that man has created within this inheritance -- all these are rendered with a sense of timelessness and exactitude. The art of photography as it is used on the printed page or in exhibitions, as well as in films and television, is moving swiftly toward wider and wider horizons.
EDWARD STEICHEN Director, Department of Photography