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How Real is Reality: Do Photographs Lie?

Zaun, Lampe

Photography has always been subjected to various controversies. The most serious of those was revolving around the question: Is photography art? Is a piece that can be replicated indefinitely an art piece? While this discussion may still go on in some art circles, the question has been answered, so to speak, by majority vote or by the forces of a free market. Recent auctions have sold single photographs for a few million dollars, private art collections and museums around the world complement their portfolios with photographic art.

Another interesting topic for discussion is the trustworthiness of photography. Can we believe that what we see in a photograph is true? It is by no means a new discussion. Ansel Adams’s Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico 1941 is a masterpiece of black-and-white landscape photography, but it was a creation of the Adams darkroom and by no means a “true” image of that moment in time in Hernandez. Neither are Jerry Uelsmann’s analog photomontages anywhere close to being true.

So, it is not a new discussion, it is old, and was probably revived by the advent of Photoshop in the digital age. But it is a moot discussion from the beginning, because there is no thruth in any image be it painted or photographed.

Each of us has, by the shere physical or emotional capabilities and properties of our bodies and souls, a different perception of the world around us, we each “see things differently.” Moreover, the moment we grab a tool to capture our perception, be it a paint brush or a camera, we add another layer of interpretation to it. And we make choices when we photograph. We choose a lens, thereby changing frame, perspective, and near-far relationship. We choose aperture and shutter speed, thereby changing a whole lot: amount of light, depth of field, and we isolate and obscure objects. We go down on our knees or get up on a ladder, thereby giving the scene an entirely different appearance.

We don’t lie, we try to say the truth of what we see and feel by making the choices that allow us to say it the right way.

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