Saturday, October 17, 2015

This morning at breakfast I was browsing through a Bryan Petterson book. He was talking about photoshopping images and seemed to conclude that it was okay as long as the viewer was made aware that the image had been photoshopped. He felt that preserving the truth of the photograph was important.

Well, some time ago I purchased a book titled “Truth in Photography” which reinforced my personal belief that there is no such thing as truth in a photograph regardless of whether or not any manipulation had been applied. It is a point that can be argued but not in a way that can persuade me differently.

My OPINION is that there is nothing about a photograph that is true. Certainly not the depth—the real world has that third dimension that simply does not exist in a photograph. Yes, you can give the illusion of depth but you cannot replicate depth in the two dimensional photograph. 
Point of View or perspective can approximate human vision but human vision cannot approximate the photograph. We see very limited sharpness—the camera sees everything sharp. A good demonstration of this is to hold your hand at arm’s length with the fingers spread; focus on the thumb and you will be aware in your peripheral vision that the outer fingers are actually not sharp. You cannot even see the flat of your hand at arm’s length sharp from thumb to little finger. What does that say about how we see the rest of the world? The photograph that has very limited depth of field comes much closer to approximating the way we actually see but most photographers will argue that point. I am in agreement with Cartier-Bresson when he says that sharpness (in a photograph) is a bourgeois concept. Certainly it is a mistaken concept that we see that way.
Take a blond in a red sweater to a bar, to a sports arena, to lunch at high noon, dinner by candlelight or to the beach and you will see the same color blond hair and the same color red sweater. The camera would see the hair and the sweater very differently in each of these lighting situations. This is not to even consider the monochrome photograph—how’s that for truth?
Without belaboring the point, I simply do not believe that there is any truth in a photograph beyond verisimilitude—the appearance of being real. It is not real. It is not truth. It is simply a flattened, usually miniaturized and often discolored sliver grabbed from what is reality. The day you start seeing in squares and rectangles with borders please let me know. 
All of which leads to one simple statement. Do not expect to see truth in my photographs. 
There are lots of things like emotion, poignancy, beauty of form, a piece of me, chaos, fear, the past, the future or simply my little world that I snap into existance which I would like to make visible in my photographs. To do that I will and do take any liberties that I feel work. What a relief; now, it will never again be necessary for me to inform the viewer when I have cloned out an object, added an object, change the hue or intensity of a color or even used an action to enhance what is within the frame of any of my photographs… or suppose that my photographs possess any relationship to truth beyond the metaphorical.
Hence forward I am free to lie with my camera to my hearts content.


  1. a very beautiful lie! btw, how do you define truth?

  2. Jan, thank you. This image makes no effort to appear to be true. Truth like most words in the English language has multiple meanings but the one that applies here would be 'conforming to reality.' To attempt to answer your question I think requires going back to what I wrote the other day about Windows and Artifacts. I think most people see photographs as the 'window' and that allows a perception that what they are seeing is reality. It is pretty easy to prove that it is not reality because it is distorted on several levels such as the few I mentioned in this post. Something as simple as changing the focal length of the lens totally changes the relationships of the objects included in the photograph. A longer focal length compresses the perception of spatial distances and wider angle lenses expands the perception of spatial distance. By doing so this distortion creates new relationships between the objects in the photograph; relationships that do not exist in reality. Even the flattening of the image creates relationships that did not exist in reality. How many times have you discovered objects in your photographs that you were unaware of at the time of the exposure because you did not see a relationship until after the depth was flattened? It is not as much 'truth' that bothers me in photography--it is that it is so difficult to see the photograph as the artifact because of this perception of truth. This is just another way of confronting the old discussion, "the photograph is not the subject matter, it is a separate entity. Now, in truth, to use that word again, it doesn't seem to matter to hardly anyone but me. I guess the argument I would like to make is to understand that there is little about a photograph that conforms to reality and if the viewer of the photograph could get past this need to see what I believe to be a misconception then it would be possible to see the photograph for what it is, a photograph and then take from it the same thing that would be taken from any other work of art. To steal duChemin's definition: a photograph is simply lines, forms, shapes, tones and sometimes colors. That is the reality, the truth, of a photograph.

  3. thanks for the further explanation, Gary. as always, something to ponder.