Assignment 8 – Photography

Newhall, originally writing in 1937, and Sontag, writing in 1977, seem to make a similar point about the “reality” of photographic images:

“Garner’s dead sharpshooter, his long rifle gleaming by his side, is not imagined. This man lived; this is the spot where he fell; this is how he looked in death. There lies the great psychological difference between photography and the other graphic arts… The camera records what is focussed upon the ground glass. If we had been there, we would have seen it so…. We have been shown again and again that this is pure illusion. Subjects can be misrepresented, distorted, faked… but this knowledge cannot shake our implicit faith in the truth of a photographic record.” Newhall, p. 71

A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. A picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture. Sontag, p. 5

Do you think this generalization still holds, in the age of Photoshop? Do people still have “an implicit faith in the truth of the photographic record”? Discuss with reference to one or more of the following (sets of) images:

“Unattainable Beauty,” Daily Beast

“Fox News Airs Altered Photos,” Media Matters

“From North Korea, an Altered Procession,” New York Times

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