This first part of the course is about photography and truth. Are photographs depictions of reality? How accurate are they and can we rely on them to show us all the facts? Do they really show us the actual version of the events they depict? For the first 100 years of photography and probably into the second half of the 20th century, a photograph would be viewed as if it showed the facts; 'the camera never lies' is an expression we often hear. I know when I grew up I would look at photographs as if they were facts and would never question their veracity (even if I'd know what veracity meant then!) It goes without saying that most photographs do show 'the facts' and often we will all agree on the same version of the facts. For example, above is a photograph of George Bernard Shaw; there is no doubt about that, and why should there be? But if I were to say this was a photograph of Shaw after he had died, you would probably recognise it as an untruth. The point about this is that the photograph itself is the same, it is what is told about the photograph and the way it is portrayed and maybe how it is used that will determine whether we believe the photograph to be the 'truth' or not. Many photographs have skewed or distorted meanings perhaps by the spin the photographer wanted to put on them; how the scene was edited, be it before or after the shot, or how the photograph is described; we may be looking at one thing and being told it is another. Doctoring a photograph to show something that wasn't there - say, using Photoshop to turn George Bernard Shaw's hair black would be a different way of making the photograph 'untruthful' Unedited photographs in their purest form do of course, show a very accurate version of what was in front of the lens at the time the photograph was taken, but as I am already learning, there is clearly much more to 'the truth' than that.
Szarkowski, J. (1966). The Photographer's Eye. New York: Museum of Modern Art.