A fellow photographer and blogger, Lewis Bush, on http://www.disphotic.lewisbush.com, posted a fine article yesterday about truth in photojournalism. One point of his is that no photograph can be trusted as to the message/meaning ascribed to it, for multiple reasons that he describes very well, the least being the manipulations of the image by the photographer him/herself.
Beyond the photojournalistic image, though, I think there is NO photograph that can reveal the truth; it can only reveal a point of view. There is a difference between A Truth and THE Truth. There are photographic images that hint at something that might have existed for that fraction of time. Beyond that, the rest must be left to the viewer to believe or not to believe. Is how we read it based on our biases? Think of other factors that filter the message.
Even snapshots succumb to the need for close scrutiny. We may think them less contrived. And, yet, remember the false smiles, the cheesy kisses, the demands of the photographer on the subject, for example, to simulate a happy occasion.
I like to look at images and see what I think they say. Sometimes there are gestures that reveal something unintended by the person taking the photograph or by the subject in the picture. We see only one angle and conclude something, which might not be true at all. The photographer may have chosen it because of the message intended. This image is one example of how a photograph can be read or misread.
I see a grandmother with her hand on her grandson’s neck. They are dressed for a formal occasion, a Communion, a Bar Mitzvah, perhaps a wedding. Her corsage says wedding but I cannot be sure. The background suggests there is a hired photographer with backdrop, props, and lights taking the picture. I assume it is Grandma because both she and the boy have reddish hair, there is that age difference, and there seems to be a close relationship between them. Grandma’s red fingernails draw attention to her quasi-grip on the young boy’s neck. That is the funny part of the image for me, her hand like a ventriloquist’s, holding his dummy.
This is likely an outtake that survived. Had her fingers not been right there, we could have read this quite differently. Perhaps the one chosen from the contact sheets by the family had her hand behind the boy. But this one made the list of Awkward Family Photos.
Here is another one I like in that same list.
The members of the family seem prepared with props, wigs, or expressions for the photographer, with one exception, the little girl with her fingers in her mouth. She is caught unready or unsure of what is even happening. Again, the sister or mother’s gesture pressing her two fingers on to the little girl’s shoulder seem to say, “Don’t Move.” The little girl looks a bit nervous, sucking on two fingers, and the balloon just looks sad. To me, to me.
Final thought for the day. Does it matter that we recognize the subjectivity of the photograph? Well, apparently, it does. There is something so convincing about “seeing it with one’s own eyes” that even the most savvy viewer can be seduced by the illusion that it is real or true.
Advertising photography, intended to sell a product, creates a fantasy for us. We may know that, intellectually, but the sales push driven by imagery still works its magic. My current favorite is the Ralph Lauren fashion ad played before and after Downton Abbey, models parading turn-of-the-century-inspired gowns in front of an Abbey-like building. We become the perfect audience prepped for the pitch.
Whatever the image, trust not, at least not completely.