The true state of every nation is the state of common life. The manners of the people are not to be found in the schools of learning, or the palaces of greatness, where the national character is obscured or obliterated by travel or instruction, by philosophy or vanity; nor is public happiness to be estimated by assemblies of the gay, or the banquets of the rich. The great mass of nations is neither rich nor gay: they whose aggregate constitutes the people, are found in the streets, and the villages, in the shops and farms; and from them collectively considered, must the measure of a general prosperity be taken.”
Samuel Johnson ‘Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland’ 1775
Dr Johnson, one of the world’s greatest diarists, launches into this flourish of brilliance after a comment on the poor-quality of windows in the north east of Scotland. His small observation expands our vision to wider horizons. In this book he does also comment on ‘the banquets of the rich’ and is well versed in the philosophy of the day but he emphasises the need not to overlook significant detail. Johnson reminds us to focus on the everyday, or the ‘common life’. That is a sentiment I try and emulate in my work but there is a great temptation to go for the big events.
To all photographers, writers and other artists trying to make sense of their country in significant times please read this and learn. Maybe my bias is the opposite and I need to learn to attend more banquets of the rich? All invitations welcome.