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Framing the Truth

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Framing the Truth

In my first post to Plato's "The Cave", I discussed the fact that many photographers stage photos to make them something they really are not, truthful.

In paragraph 7, Susan Sontag wrote about highly acclaimed photographers Walker Evans, Dorthea Lange, Ben Shahn, and Russell Lee. She stated they would take numerous photos of one subject "until satisfied that they had gotten just the right look on film..." and they did so to capture "...the precise expression on the subject's face that supported their own notions about poverty..." (Sontag 6-7) Manipulation of scene composition, light, angles, shadows, distance, focus, filters, and subject matter can create a finished product that will fool the eye of many viewers. It changes the nature of the photograph. With patience and a good shutter speed a photographer can keep taking photos until achieving 'the look' being sought.

I researched and viewed photos taken by all four photographers Sontag refers to in paragraph 7. Their photos in the mid 1930s are mostly of poverty-stricken families. Yet, as critically acclaimed as they are Sontag says they manipulated the subjects. Yes...there was much poverty that washed over hard working families then. These families worked extremely hard for the little they had. Although this is evident in the photos taken, the degree of poverty and emotional connection to life is skewed by the manipulation of the photographer.

Art critic Geoffrey Batchen has this to say,

Traditional photographs - the ones our culture has always put so much trust in - have never been "true" in the first place. Photographers intervene in every photograph they make, whether by orchestrating or directly interfering in the scene being imaged; by selecting, cropping, excluding, and in other ways making pictorial choices as they take the photograph; by enhancing, suppressing, and cropping the finished print in the darkroom; and, finally, by adding captions and other contextual elements to their image to anchor some potential meanings and discourage others." (Mullen)

I agree that manipulation takes the truth out of the photo. Also, photography is largely an art form like prose, paintings, and story-telling. As Sontag points out, prose and paintings can never be more than an interpretation of the artist. When a person recounts a story, such as something witnessed, the recount is distorted by personal perception which is greatly influenced by the life experience of the individual.

One could argue that there is truth in all photos by the sheer fact that the photo exists of 'something', a person, event, or place. Sontag states in paragraph 6 that "A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened." (Sontag 5) I agree with that statement to a certain



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