Errol Morris: Two Essential Truths About Photography

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.

Eugene Buchko is a blog­ger and pho­tog­ra­ph­er liv­ing in Atlanta, GA. He main­tains a pho­to­blog, Eru­dite Expres­sions, and writes about what he reads on his read­ing blog.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wern­er Her­zog Los­es a Bet to Errol Mor­ris, and Eats His Shoe (Lit­er­al­ly)

“They Were There” — Errol Mor­ris Final­ly Directs a Film for IBM

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  • arun says:

    Padra­ic and Soni­aDeasy teach pho­tog­ra­phy cours­es to por­trait pho­tog­ra­phers all over the world. Their tech­niques of tak­ing the cours­es is very good and also they teach how to take por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy as a busi­ness.

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