In this video created by the Guardian, writer and award-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris talks about the nature of truth, art, and propaganda in photography. He draws examples from the photographs of Abu Ghraib and the Crimean War, both cited in his book Believing is Seeing, and he asks the viewer to consider a most fundamental question: how does a photograph relate to the physical world? Unlike a verbal or written statement, a photograph cannot be true or false. It simply is.
Then comes another argument worth considering — the idea that all photographs are posed. By way of example, Morris cites an instance where a photographer (in this case Roger Fenton) omits an elephant standing outside the frame. And it leads Morris to suggest that we shouldn’t take photos at face value. Rather we should do our due diligence to find out whether there isn’t always a metaphorical elephant looming beyond the frame. As Morris states, a photograph decontextualizes everything. It reveals to us a two dimensional reality that’s “been torn out of the fabric of the world.”
This video is part of the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” series, in which the world’s top thinkers, newsmakers, and people with stories to tell are interviewed. For more meditations on photography, give some time to Errol Morris’ speech at the Harvard Bookstore. Find the transcript here.