Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Truth ...In the Eyes of the Beholder?

New giant dove discovered during eclipse of the moon.

"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.


  1. Isn't she saying today that she met the pope? LOL

    I remember the Capa Spanish war shot of the Republican Militia man "meeting his death."

    Then again, there's some fashion photography I find mesmerizing too.

  2. In this modern digital age, seeing is no longer believing.

  3. yeah, the old Grouch Marx line (paraphrased) 'who ya gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?' now has new meaning. We can't even trust our eyes. The latest example of that is a photo of a baby born prematurely that the anti-planned parenthood video makers claimed was of an abortion with a voice speaking about harvesting its organs. Except it was a miscarriage and the baby had no organs harvested. The photo was out because the parents were heartbroken and wanted to share their lost baby with their family and friends. The photo is real but the rest of it had been edited to make the point the creator needed. We cannot trust the images we see of beautiful scenery, people or pretty much anything else as anything can be adjusted to suit the creator. What is truth today is very questionable.

  4. This is a real heads up for me. I tend to believe photos. But I am certainly aware of the doctored Planned Parenthood videos.
    It seems obvious in the current political climate that truth doesn't really matter anymore. People make their own truth, apparently even in photos.

  5. A picture is worth a thousand words, however, with Photoshopping, there can be no truth.

  6. apparently there is no truth in this country. and people will not accept that a photo that upholds what they want to believe is false. there is another photo floating around of a ship overflowing with Albanians trying to get into Italy in 1991 that is being touted as europeans fleeing war trying to get into N. Africa as a sort of don't be quick to judgement about Syrian refugees trying to get into Europe. and of course Nixon doubted the veracity of the Viet Nam photo because it put right there in everyone's face the horrible things we were doing to that country and people.

  7. Add to this the fact, as i have always seen it, that the camera person only shows us the angles s/he wants us to see. Think you saw everything because there was a live camera? Think again, what was happening off camera?

  8. In the old days I could make trick pics in the darkroom, but it was much more work!

    Yay for freedom of the cam!

  9. I took a class in photoshop many years ago and have not trusted pictures since. We have to question everything we see and hear these days.

  10. My goodness Tabor, I had not heard that the photo of the child on the beach was staged.

  11. We are being encouraged to have emotional reactions to events rather than rational ones. That is because media people think we are stupid.
    Susan Sontag is an acquired taste as a novelist, I think, although I did like *The Volcano Lovers,* a historical novel which is sufficiently educational and very informative.

  12. Thanks for sharing the insights into photos and possible manipulation, either by staging or photoshopping. The nightly images from the news stay in my mind far too long. There must be a way to act upon them, digest them and move on - helping where possible. Blessings from


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