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"people remember through photographs but that they remember only the photographs ... that the photographic image eclipses other forms of understanding – and remembering. ... To remember is, more and more, not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture" Susan Sontag
For readers who do not know Sontag, she was a fiction and non-fiction writer who became interested in photography and its affect on society and its implications as it evolved into what we have today with the ease of digital documentation. She was a very demanding, smart, and exotic woman. I have not read any of her fiction, but may tackle that someday. Her interest in war grew with several trips to Sarajevo during the war there. I have been reading a Susan Sontag book about the brutal photography taken during war. Oh, yes, a nice after dinner theme to sink my teeth into after watching the photos and videos on TV covering all the devastating news.
Decades ago in the old Russia, people were removed from dignitary photos without guilt as certain leaders lost favor with the regime over time. There were usually a few other non-doctored photos that revealed the editing to the world.
Most people remember the famous photo taken by AP photographer Nick Ut of the naked 9-year-old Vietnamese girl running from the rain of chemical napalm from a South Vietnamese Air Force attack that incorrectly thought the village was an enemy group. The photo won a Pulitzer prize and yet history tells us that President Nixon doubted its authenticity. Was it too awful to be real?
Recently a photo of a Syrian toddler lying face down in the surf on a beach near a Turkish resort was published around the world. This very moving photo touched many people much more strongly than all the boats of refugees crowded in rafts or trudging along railroad lines in search of a new life. An investigation later revealed that the boy had been moved from a small cove to the beach area for a better photo opportunity. So now this becomes a bit of a staged photograph! Would it have had the same tragic punch if the original site of death was the one shared around the world?
Also this year some videos of Syrian refugees refusing water and food and in another case carrying some flags in protest were sent out with the information that these were examples of how Islamic zealots were willing to protest for their religion with the sub-text of how dangerous these people could be if let into "Christian" countries. Not given enough attention was that these photos had nothing to do with Islam. One was not even part of the current refugee crises but another protest entirely at a different place and time. The other videos reflected frustration at being stuck behind a fence for days with no where to go, rather than rejection of "Red-Cross" meals. If someone had not followed with accurate context, could this have mushroomed into a larger rejection of Muslim refugees?
There was also a photo this week from Peru that Kay Davis lawyers insisted was a mass meeting of Christians in Peru (of all places?) supporting her stand against gay marriage. It took less than 48 hours for photographic detectives to reveal the photo was taken more than a year ago and had nothing to do with her protest.
We are going to have to question photographs we see as photo-shopping a digital photo can be even more confusing and less able to detect as we move into the future. What we once relied on as photographic truth is not necessarily so.