Featured Image: – (Amr Nabil/Associated Press) http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2013/07/egypt_in_turmoil.html
For many people the photograph has implied ‘Truth’ and the expression “The camera never lies.” has become established in our everyday vocabulary. However, with the development of the digital camera and image manipulating software this established ‘myth’ is now becoming more and more challenged.
I use the word ‘myth’ as this has been the case from the very first image ever created by a photographic means.
A photograph is nothing more than a flat image printed on a flat solid surface such as paper using chemicals or dyes of displayed from a screen such as a TV or computer monitor, it is only a representative of the subject that it illustrates and not the subject itself.
Composition – A photo is firstly selective. It only shows what is within the frame, therefor the subject seen is inevitably always going to be someway or another out of context from it’s original place and perhaps its full meaning. This can be purely accidental due to the limitations of the camera’s field of view; but it can also be deliberate by choosing to compose the shot to crop out a subject of subjects that puts the picture in to a context that the photographer does not want others to see. a simple movement of the camera to the left or right, an alternative position to take the shot from can alter the apparent context of the image.
Who and why – Who took the picture can also alter the context of a photo. Has the photographer his or her own agenda. Political, propaganda, or war correspondent photographs will reflect the political, social and patriotic views of the photographer, sometimes consciously and some times unconsciously but inevitably the photographer will find themselves on one side of the line or the other.
Timing – The photograph is an image that captures a moment in time, this can be a matter of a thousandth of a second to minutes. However once captured this moment is forever a moment of the that ‘present’ locked in to the image. The universe however is constantly moving/changing and in some circumstances another photo taken immediately after the first image can capture a very different picture which could be interpreted in a totally different way.
Presentation – How the photograph is presented to the viewing public can also alter the context of an image for example: a photograph of a little girl crying – This could simply have been photographed in a children’s play ground and the child has just dropped her ice-cream. However, the caption under the picture says, “Orphan”.
Typically the viewer was not present at the time the photograph was taken and therefor the viewer can very easily be mislead into interpreting the image very differently than what was actually the ‘Truth’. Without the dropped ice-cream in the image, the timing of the shot capturing the child’s anguish at the loss of her special treat and the photographers own agenda and method of presentation the context has been altered from just a picture of a child to a more social / political statement. This type of image is very commonly used to encourage charitable donations for famine relief. I once saw a news report for a famine and the news video camera moved to capture a mother and child in the refugee camp and as the camera paned over to them, I saw the mother pinch the child’s arm in order to make her cry out and the child naturally started crying for the benefit of the media circus. The famine was very real but the child’s emotions were not.
In the last ten or so years digital cameras have become mores prevalent with the introduction of the digital camera to the mobile phone which is now a standard feature on most if not all new phones. As a result a new form of photo-journalism has began to take shape in the form of what can be best called and described as ‘citizen-journalism’ which is the use by the media of images taken by the general public of events that have been of news worthy value such as disasters and more recently terrorist attacks.
It can be argued that this new development in the world of photography can help to defend the ‘myth’ that “the camera still does not lie”.
In Egypt there is much political unrest amongst the population and there are many images on the internet taken by ‘citizen-journalism’ to highlight abuses of power.
(Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images) # http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2013/07/egypt_in_turmoil.html
(Louafi Larbi/Reuters) # http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2013/07/egypt_in_turmoil.html
(Khaled Abdullah/Reuters) # http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2013/07/egypt_in_turmoil.html
(Asmaa Waguih/Reuters) # http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2013/07/egypt_in_turmoil.html
The cause of the civil unrest is due to the ousting of the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military. Civil demonstrations has resulted in what appears to be an attempt at a brutal put-down by the military with many unarmed citizens being shot dead.
In my mind I feel that these images have been composed to convey an ‘us and them’ theme. The citizen against the state. The positioning / location of the camera’s view the framing / cropping and timing of the shots are all intended to convey a theme of aggression against the civil population.
Is it objective? – This question is totally dependant on who it is aimed at and the answer may not be universally agreed. From the point of view of the photographer and perhaps many of the citizens seen in the pictures the answer is yes it is objective if these images helps to win their fight. However, from the military perspective the pictures may only be seen to insight more trouble and make an already difficult situation even harder to peacefully resolve.
Can pictures ever be objective?
I believe the answer to this is YES but with caution.
To create an objective picture some careful ethical considerations must first be considered. The photographer must first consider the possible implications of the picture he is making and present it in an honest way. I think that the only way a picture has any chance of being objective is that the photographer simply photographs what he sees before him at the time and tries to presents that image as honestly as ha can. This may require additional pictures or text to convey atmosphere, emotions, or context to the wider picture beyond the frame.
However, it can be argued that in practise this may not be in his hands as if it is a news story the picture becomes the ownership of the Picture Editor and he or she may have another agenda.
It can also be argued that a photo taken by a citizen-journalist has a degree of objectivity because the photographer simply took the picture without taking time to ‘pose’ the subject; or considering view point; so the image has greater authenticity.
Has it? Yes, the photographer took the picture in a hurry with little or no thought the picture is great! it caught the action, the atmosphere, the despair, the drama. But did it capture the truth?
Are there other pictures taken by other witnesses from other angles moments before or after that will tell another story?
Is the picture we are shown on the front page of our paper or that headline image behind the news reader on the TV simply chosen from amongst the many ‘tweeted’ to the publishers and networks and selected by the Picture Editors for no other reason than attention grabbing hype.
(Ed Giles/Getty Images) # http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2013/07/egypt_in_turmoil.html Is this man being helped or assaulted?
It can be argued that there is some historic evidence to suggest the photographs can be used objectively. The documentary photography of the Vietnam war is an example of objective photography that as a result of some of their images helped the anti-war league persuade the American administration to review it’s policy in South East Asia and finally pull out of Vietnam.
My Lai massacre, US soldiers. http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=my+lai+massacre+photos&view=detailv2&qpvt=my+lai+massacre+photos&id=4FFF8049D1483870BF88C843B725B26B86F2468B&selectedIndex=0&ccid=K31kDj66&simid=608010182754239713&thid=OIP.M2b7d640e3eba0759bce3050c6e0e026aH0&ajaxhist=0
Iconic image of the slaying of a Vietcong. http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=vietnam+war+pictures&view=detailv2&id=A085139D9ABA1A67BEE676F5848307A5FF053A3B&selectedindex=1&ccid=YQAjxYzF&simid=608021508587586101&thid=OIP.M610023c58cc57ce31cbad67a2973cea4H0&mode=overlay&first=1
Iconic image of child still burning from a napalm explosion. http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=vietnam+war+crimes&view=detailv2&qpvt=vietnam+war+crimes&id=E83C5210D3558A427164EB6A76B7F9B41EB7E448&selectedIndex=8&ccid=G9uqhq%2fk&simid=608054081613137974&thid=OIP.M1bdbaa86afe4177a17fa6570829c98d2H0&ajaxhist=0
I cautiously only use the words evidence, as I am sure there are many historians that will point to political and economic reasons why the Americans pulled out and that these photographs had very little to do with it. However, It can not denied that the Vietnam became the living room war thanks to photography and images like these helped turn public opinion against the war and in turn the public applied pressure on the administration to alter it’s policies and the rest is history.