Exercise 5: Critical Analysis

For this section we are asked to read ‘The Real and the Digital​’ in Wells, L. (ed.) (2015) Photography : a critical introduction​. (Fifth edition.) London, [England] ; New York, New York: Routledge. pp.92–95. At: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucreative-ebooks/detail.action?docID=196 8918

When accessing that document there is a slight discrepancy in that those pages correlate with a section titled ‘Defining the real in the digital age’.

In considering the question ‘Does technology change how we see photography as truth?’ I find as with many of the question so far posed in this unit that the answer is multifaceted.

In and of itself does technology change our perception of photography? I don’t believe it does.

Technology has always been a driving force behind the development of photography both in the ability to capture images in lower light, faster shutter speeds and with flash to freeze movement etc. the latest changes in the medium prompting the movement from chemical based films and development to the digital has democratised the photograph and the lowered the bar of entry for those who wish to pursue the medium but, at the same time there is still a very limited amount of photographers who become influential in the field.

To recall points from the earlier exercises I believe the legitimacy of an image is mostly derived from several factors;

The photographer, an influential photographer has generally built a reputation for their work and the perception of the work is therefore akin to their personal agenda.

The platform, for example a photograph displayed in the National Geographic will be associated with their reputation therefore considered to be truthful as opposed to an image appearing in a tabloid.

The context, the information we gain from the internal logic of the image combined with the accompanying information also creates legitimacy. This includes the placement within the platform.

To look at the question another way is to ask if technology has made it easier to manipulate images to create an alternate truth? In some ways yes, I believe it has.

The use of the photograph to promote and support ‘non-truths’ has existed since the inception of the medium. The Cottingly Fairies is an excellent example of how people can be deceived by the manipulation of images, even early on in the life of photography when such compositing was a much more difficult process. The success in the deception lies in the naivety of the audience and the lack of knowledge about the medium. Another example would be the photographic and cinematic work of Leni Reifensthal, less a representation of the manipulation of the medium and more an example of how the very act of creating an image can present a concept or idea skewed in a way to supports an agenda of ideological superiority.

Considering the view that technology does change how we view photography as truth I can see how on the surface our inherent trust of photography through the first 100 or so years of existence has been put to a test by artists, creators and headline hunters looking for attention grabbing images.

With the advent of Social Media as a new media platform, free from the constraints of journalistic control and influence, the ability to publish images as untouched or genuine was very easy. As with the rules I outlined above the platform was considered to be free from the agenda of government and media outlets so therefore more likely to reveal something that the perceived ‘controlling powers’ of news agencies would not publish for fear of revealing a conspiracy or damaging a reputation. Obviously this can be a genuine concern but in actuality this freedom on the platform allowed for the spread of ‘Fake News’. Also the context is completely in the hands of the original publisher. The story that goes with the image is decided without any oversight or reference to sources, allowing those with less than ideal ethics creating stories and images that fit there agenda. even to the point of recycling images from previous or past events that fit the narrative they wish to push.

However, I do also believe that after the recent issues with Cambridge Analytica and their prevalence and association with the scandal of generating propaganda and spreading that through the social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram that there has been a shift in the platforms responsibilities to become a new type of overwatch for the citizen journalist.

I would like to believe that the general public has become more savvy to the influence of the photograph and of self published work in general, sadly whilst I have sensed an increase in the amount of questions people raise about posts non social media I don’t believe that we are at a stage were enough individuals are sceptical about the content being created and shared. I do however feel that the platforms have increased their ability to monitor and curtail the spread of ‘fake news’ be that through banning users, removing content outright or in the case of some works, shadow banning and surprising other works.

The idea of photography as truth is a double edged sword. The freedom to easily create whatever we want has made the medium more diverse, interesting and challenging but has left itself open to further misuse through its ubiquity. The power of the photograph as truth has been built upon the way images themselves are presented, the validation of the medium within professional bodies as documents or evidence lends to the theory of the photograph as reality. But, with that validity comes the checks and balances set out by those bodies to ensure the genuineness of those images.

I believe that technology has made it easier for more people to be involved in the medium and for more manipulation to take place. It has also made it easier to publish and spread mis-information through digital outlets. But, I also believe that the inherent feeling that truth can be found in photography is so ingrained in our culture that despite the knowledge that any image can be selected, edited or composited to represent any single agenda, we will still have a majority take images on their face value.

In summary, yes images are much easier to capture, manipulate and spread thanks to technology but, the vast majority of people are unwilling or unable to question information presented to them that the issue really lies with what is beyond the image and how do we educate people to challenge their perception.

My idea of documentary photography hasn’t changed much across Part One, mainly as I am by nature a fairly sceptical person who questions the validity of media in general. I do however have a better understanding of how documentary fits into the art world and how we can appreciate the work in different ways.

The difference between reportage, being a subjective way of curating documentary and the objective nature of photojournalism is debatable and highly dependant on the ability of a documentarian to separate ones own ideas and agenda from the work whereas the freedoms of Art photography give us the opportunity to explore the concept of what we see and feel, a way to disseminate the whole into manageable and understandable parts.

Reflecting on this passage, I found several points that I found very interesting. Jean Baudrillard is quoted saying ‘…the gulf war did not take place’. When reading this quote I immediately thought of Margrittes ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe‘. A statement more about the fact that the painting has taken on the realm of representing reality whereas Margritte points out that it is not a pipe but merely a representation of a pipe. In the same way that the Gulf War did not happen, for the vast majority of people it did not. That is not to deny the occurrence of the Gulf War but to remind us that we only experienced it vicariously through the video and photographs of the news agencies and military documentarians. In a short sentence we can grasp the idea that what we see does not truly represent what happens. IN the BBC 4 series ‘The Genius of Photography’ (2007) Episode 3 ‘Right Place, Right Time’ https://archive.org/details/tGoPhoto/BBC+The+Genius+of+Photography+-+01×01+-+Fixing+the+Shadows.mp4,

The World War 2 US military photographer Tony Vaccaro describes how the images he produced in no way retell the sounds and smells of the battlefield and how he was constantly trying to capture the ‘whole’, a feat no amount of film rolls would be able to achieve.

Another quote ‘The results may at first resemble gimmickry, but eventually they will be transformative’ from Ritchin, stuck in my mind. I for one find the current drive of the majority of photographers to be towards recognition for the aesthetic. Utilising the advances in technology to further improve the technical aspects of the image rather than capturing something new and unseen. Thinking of how we still reproduce the Harold Eugene Edgerton images nearly a contrary on from his first high speed images is an example of the gimmickry inferred by Ritchin when commenting on technological progress. I’m interested to see what the transformative moment will be, perhaps combining many different skills into images rather than specialising, reflecting the many different emotions, experiences and individuals that make up humanity.

Overall this section of the unit has got me itching to try new things, to push and develop my work further and to combine different techniques to mould a coherent, challenging and engaging piece of work, but at the same time the possibilities can be paralysing in their diversity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s