The camera never lies!  I was brought up with this saying and it was always stated as being an absolute fact.  From an early age I wondered about whether a belief in the truth of the saying depended on whether one was on the side of the ‘defence’ or the ‘prosecution’ as this would seriously influence one’s viewpoint.  A picture can tell many stories depending on what one wants it to say as can be seen from the arguments and counter-arguments surrounding evidence in many court cases.  Self interest can play a large part in determining one’s position on something!  Just look at the images in fashion magazines to see the truth of this,  but does the camera really lie?

As I have grown and learnt from life I have understood that, whereas the camera cannot lie as it mechanically captures what is going on in front of it, it can be made to bend the truth and usually does so in some way or another bot in pre- and post production.  There are two elements that contribute to this deception – the image maker and the image viewer.

The image maker (photographer) will consciously or unconsciously influence the appearance of the final image both during the process of preparing for and actually taking the photograph and also during any post processing operations that he / she applies to it. This influence might be to alter its content, its subject matter, its focus, its tone and colour balance, its depth of field, its symmetry, or any other attribute, and the purpose of these changes and adjustments can include the enhancement or reduction of the beauty of the image, the inclusion of elements that tell a story, the removal of elements that detract from the story, the creation of an effect that will influence the viewer, and a number of other purposes.  It is likely that the photographer will have their own reason for creating the image in the first place and this purpose will influence the appearance and content of the final image.

The viewer or reader will bring their own agenda to their consideration of the image and this will influence their experience of it.  Their likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, interests and prejudices, experiences and education, degree of openness and their mindset at the time – all these will have a bearing on their reaction / response to the image.  Truth and fiction are constructs of the mind and it is the mind that will determine whether an image is true or not at the end of the day.  To quote from William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Some proponents of truth and accuracy in photographic images have started campaigns to prevent the enhancement in post processing of fashion images and even to ban Photoshop completely.  However, these movements ignore the fact that the ‘falsification’ of images is more than just during post processing but throughout the entire image creation process.  It also ignores the fact that, throughout many branches of photography such as fashion, advertising, book illustration, landscape, etc., image manipulation through post processing software is endemic. One might as well ban filters!  There is an interesting article on this subject on the blog of dczook, an academic, film maker, and musician whose day job is teaching peace, politics, and human rights at the University of California, Berkeley.  (*1)

In the context of documentary photography there is an expectation if not a demand that the representation in an image is accurate and honest.  This is particularly true in the case of images used in news articles or in ‘serious’ journals and publications.  The reading public must have confidence in the truth and credibility of what they read and see and   many agencies and organisations have rigid codes of practice for photographers to ensure that their photographs are 100% genuine.

This is exemplified by a recent case reported in the ‘Independent‘ when The Associated Press announced they had “severed ties” with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Narciso Contreras after he doctored a photo taken of the conflict in Syria. The news agency said Mr Contreras recently told its editors he had manipulated a digital picture of a Syrian rebel fighter taken last September, using software to remove a colleague’s video camera from the lower left corner of the frame.  Even though it was an isolated incident,  AP said that the alteration breached its requirements for truth and accuracy even though it involved a corner of the image with little news importance.


Source  –  Associated Press

“AP’s reputation is paramount and we react decisively and vigorously when it is tarnished by actions in violation of our ethics code,” Mr Lyon said. “Deliberately removing elements from our photographs is completely unacceptable.”  Associated Press said it had ended its relationship with Mr Contreras and would be removing all of his images from its publicly available photo archive.  (*2)

In summary, I would suggest that the camera does not lie but it can be made to bend the truth to meet the expectations and demands of both the photographer and the public.

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*1.       Dczook blog

*2.          The Independent

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