Staging or faking? Exploring the Myth of photographic truth

In fact, every photograph is a fake from start to finish, a purely impersonal, unmanipulated photograph being practically impossible” (Edward Steichen, Ye Fakers, 1903)

Despite the fact that Steichen openly admitted this way back in 1903, the perennial question that rears its head time and again in discussions of (particularly news and documentary) photography – is it a truthful image, a faithful representation of event as it actually happened, or was it all dreamed up and orchestrated by the photographer? At the end of the day, does it really matter that much? It seems to! Continue reading “Staging or faking? Exploring the Myth of photographic truth”

Update – Steve McCurry scandal

When I first got wind of this story through Duckrabbit, my interest was piqued since I wrote a critical analysis of McCurry’s work for my last level.

It seems that a viewer noticed some Photoshopping in a McCurry image from Cuba on display in a Turin gallery and posted his observations on Facebook:

Continue reading “Update – Steve McCurry scandal”

Image manipulation

As a result of what he terms the ‘virus of manipulation’, Andy Grundberg (1990) laments that even some of photography’s icons have been subjected to alteration, and cites the example of a Eugene Smith image of Albert Schweitzer that was later revealed to be a composite of two negatives (the original images not available since Smith developed all his prints in his own laboratory before submitting them to Time): Continue reading “Image manipulation”

Deliberate staging

Reading an article on David Campbell’s website, I came across a link to an article on Duckrabbit which was a discussion of fakery in image making. The photograph below won the prestigious Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009 award, but was quickly stripped of the award and the photographer banned for life from entering the competition – because it was suspected (never 100% proved) that the wolf was a tamed one:

Continue reading “Deliberate staging”

Selecting the images to fit the political agenda

In theory, photographs are used to back up or to prove contentions made in the article. They are the visual evidence, the facts of the matter. In actuality they needn’t perform that role. They only need to appear, to give the appearance of evidence. Beyond this they can do anything. Their factualness is never questioned.” (David Levi Strauss on the use of photographs in Newsweek, 2005, p 30)

man likes signs and likes them clear” (Barthes 1977, p 29) Continue reading “Selecting the images to fit the political agenda”

Blurring the distinction between fact and fiction

Documentary photography tends to focus on the other as serious subject matter, from exotic natives adorning the pages of National Geographic to victims of the system or sufferers of disease or abjection. As Mary Panzer observed:

exotic subjects can be found at home, simply by crossing the boundaries erected by class, political affiliation and cultural taboo. Long before photography, crime and impoverishment provided highly popular subjects for illustrated books, articles, prints and engravings. Photographic studies of the streets of New York, the sewers of Paris, and the back-alleys of London, Shanghai, Calcutta and Rome continued this well-established tradition. The hellish environments created by industry provided fresh turns on old subjects, often accompanying reports on the need for reform” (2005, p 12) Continue reading “Blurring the distinction between fact and fiction”

‘Shady commerce’ or ‘Complex contract’

Sontag warned of the dangers of assuming the objective nature of photographs, as well as the honesty of the photographers themselves:

despite the presumption of veracity that gives all photographs authority, interest, seductiveness, the work that photographers do is no generic exception to the usually shady commerce between art and truth” (1977, p 6)

Continue reading “‘Shady commerce’ or ‘Complex contract’”

Image reading and context

Every photograph is an act amid a complex structure of choices. These choices, which extend beyond the time of the photograph, influence the photograph before, during, and after its instant. Reading photographs in context is a participation in this complex,” (David Levi Strauss 2005, p 33).

Although we have faith in the assumed ‘reality’ of photographs because of their scientific origins (the products of optics and chemistry), Andy Grundberg contends that it is their meanings that are up for grabs, since these are determined “not so much by the camera as by the human being behind the machine and by the contexts in which the resulting images are seen” (1990, n.p.). Continue reading “Image reading and context”

The power of the frame

all art dramatizes things by putting them in an intensifying frame and thus giving them a sense of heightened reality or vividness” (Shusterman 2012, p 72)

Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.’ (Winogrand, cited in Newman 2015) Continue reading “The power of the frame”

Image Simulations, Computer Manipulations: Some Considerations

In this article, Martha Rosler discusses the danger to truth posed by digitally manipulated images. She points out that image manipulation is as old as photography itself, and the first montage techniques came about as a result of the limitations of the medium (early orthochromatic film did not have a wide enough dynamic range to make good exposures of both sky and land in the same exposure). Such manipulations, Rosler claims, were “in the service of a truer truth, one closer to conceptual adequacy, not to mention experience” (2004, p 263). Continue reading “Image Simulations, Computer Manipulations: Some Considerations”