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A Truth and The Truth

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.

AwkwardFampic2

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.

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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.

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AyAyAy

I watched a very good documentary called Corwin last night, about a very influential writer, essayist, director, and producer of radio shows in the late 30’s and 40’s. I had never heard of Norman Corwin before but his broadcasts were considered by many to be uncommonly good, because he wrote the scripts unaltered and unedited by network owners/execs.

In the late 50’s and early 60’s, the networks moved to television for news and commentary. TV moguls learned to create and push their own agendas with respect to information dissemination. And, Norman Corwin was nudged out. He saw his medium changed beyond recognition.

I can feel his pain. And shock. I look at the recent photographic work that fills the sites of so many galleries, online as well as bricks and mortar.  There is a certain look to a good deal of them. Here are some of the categories:

Ninety nine percent of these are digital color.

1. Subjects staring into the camera, motionless, emotionless, with a simple pale background. They say nothing, unexpressive, muted figures. They are relatively attractive. Usually the figures are young and thin; maybe they could be reject models from an ad agency.

2. Another look is the domestic scene, in color, nicely lit, lots of light, vacuous and generic. Usually the environment is upper middle class, comfortable, and suburban.

3. Then, there is the landscape. Color pleasing, horizontal, frontal, and somewhat rural with fragments of human bits as commentary. There are hundreds of these.

Here is a sample of number 1.

This replaces the masters. This satisfies the buyers. This pushes no boundaries. Ay, Ay, Ay.

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After nearly 200 years of a rich and fascinating history, Photography is challenged at its core.

 What has been the direct capture of light onto a surface is now referred to as “analog,” that signifying, a light ray recorded or used in its original form.

In digital technology, the analog ray is sampled at some interval, and then turned into numbers that are stored in the digital device. 

Many see these two distinct forms of making images as mutually exclusive. One should, some think, replace one with the other, the old with the new.  “Move on,” they say, “look to the future. Dump analog, make images more easily without the mess, fuss, and icky cleanup.”

 I am not one of those individuals.

Photography, and the teaching of it, needs to be inclusive. My argument would be the same for any medium. Because of invention of the Wacom tablet, the pencil did not go into hiding. Because of the eBook, the book did not disappear. Because of calculators, one still must know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

Reliance on computer data, storage, and dissemination of fact, is sketchy. How can one trust what is sampled? Over time, computer usage will create stiff knees and large behinds. My students, new to photo, engaged with the computer screen for hours on end, have no clue. Photographers who once had to make physical images can leave them on their smart cards and post to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or whatever, with no challenge to the image as art, with no object ever produced.

In educational institutions, there is the need to justify the continued teaching of direct photography, the original magic of the capture of light and made into image. Forget history, forget science, forget understanding the beginnings of our medium.

Has there ever been a time when you knew something would go sour? I remember thinking NAFTA was a disaster for our country but most fellow liberals thought I was totally misguided.  The rush to dump direct photography is misguided and will be no less than calamitous.

Aside