Final batch of photographs showing the same places as the final downselect with Fuji. This set taken with A D3 and 70mm-200mm zoom lens
This set contrasts with the previous by purposely composing to embellish and/or post processing to bring interest – for interest sake.
These first few weeks of Gesture and Meaning have been beset with questions regarding truth and this exercise specifically asks the following three questions:
Is it possible to create a false impression?
When we look at the work of documentary photographers do we believe what we see?
Is integrity therefore an issue for the social documentary photographer?
My answers are, in the order posed: Yes. Sometimes. Yes.
In my previous post The Quiet American I quoted from Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American” where the character, Thomas Fowler being an avowed reporter expresses the sentiment that: “My fellow journalists called themselves correspondents; I preferred the title of reporter. I wrote what I saw. I took no action – even an opinion is a kind of action”. The Quiet American – Graham Greene, Vintage Classics – pp28. And how I likened this quote to how I felt about the documentary photographers of the FSA, that they can never have had “no effect”. That their mere presence in the scene will have had a consequence however small, however imperceptible. Fowler does of course change the course of the narrative, both directly and indirectly, he causes the death of a rival for the affections of a prostitute, this rival who is probably working for the CIA and working covertly to destabilize the country’s political system – so definitely wrong in the first instance but not so in the second? It is a hard question to call.
The documentary photographer doesn’t usually, one suspects, have to make decisions that are that drastic – between life and death, though I’m sure it isn’t unheard of.
If one assumes that any document is a construction – it was once a clean piece of paper then it had words, or it now has a picture – then the constructional veracity is the sole consideration of the author. If a photographer comes upon a scene and points his lens at that scene, makes an exposure what has that photographer done to corrupt the truth in the scene before them? The scene ‘may’ appear not to change but what is recorded is potentially imbued with all sorts of potential mistranslations. Perspective, focus, what is included in the frame and what is left out of frame, this moment and not the moment that occurred just before or just after the exposure. Each frame is a continuum of time captured, usually these days in electronic media with it’s own inherent compromises – that aren’t known to the photographer or able to be controlled by the photographer. So, we are in position where each frame captured is a lie. It is a falsehood perpetuated by a whole string of elements that do not belong to the photographer. Inherently a false impression then?
The documentary photographer though makes the critical decisions dependent on what narrative has been determined to be delivered. Should this place be viewed as a happy place? An unlucky circumstance? A rustic rural scene? A dirt poor farmer? A child dying of malnutrition? The perspective of the shot will affect how that image is viewed, how the communication between photographer and viewer is made easier or more difficult. It would therefore be perfectly straightforward to say yes to the first question, it is easy to create a false impression. It may be more difficult to create the reverse impression, such is the wide perception of the use of photoshop, or photographers with dubious moral scruples, or the cynical view we might have of advertising imagery.
The second two questions might be better tackling as a single issue. Again, I have written recently about truth in photography and truth in which I contend again that all photographs are lies – but can provide a light into the truth, which is probably better done within a body of work rather than a single image. The critical issue here is of course integrity. That old adage that it takes a long time to create a good name, it takes but a moment to create a bad one applies equally to that of photographic integrity.
Personally I would question the perspective integrity of Fenton, not from the constructional work he carried out in the battlefields of the Crimea, but rather from the perspective of his patronage. Ideologically speaking his photography is rooted in a class that would find difficulty communicating with anyone outside that class structure. I am sure the truth he saw was the truth, but it isn’t a truth that I would have likely recognised. Integrity and truth are values that are bred into one. Lord Astor’s truth about the countryside of Royal Berkshire is somewhat askew to that of the planners of HS2, and that, maybe, of his son-in-law! I think therefore that integrity and truth are interwoven in many cases, that a photographer who documents needs to step very carefully, needs to consider to whom he is likely communicating with.
These shots in this gallery were all taken from very similar places as in the final downselect where I live and whilst I have deliberately striven to present the same places in either a better or slightly quirkier ways I have not tried to deliberately mislead. It will be the viewer to decide.