The Concept of Truth in Photography

I am doing a Open University course, Open2Study, The Art of Photography, It is VERY technical and really goes deep into the mechanics of photography, but also a little into ethics. It is something a little different for me. We had a lesson on the Concept of Truth in Photography. The truth is, truth in photography can be quite abstract;

The existence of horses means you can take a photograph of a particular horse, but it does not prevent a horse painting from showing no horse in particular.  You cannot, however, take a photograph of no horse in particular.

-William Mitchell

This simply means, because you know horses exist you can draw one from memory, but you cannot photograph a horse from memory, it needs to physically be there. In saying that once taken, the horse can be digitally removed from the image, so if it is no longer there, if you never knew it was there in the first place; was it ever there? Or as my daughter succinctly said you can photograph a horse but not a unicorn!

Can photograph’s be trusted? I guess it boils down to what is digital art compared to a photograph and how much ‘editing’ is done, creating a true representation or turning it into what the photographer (or artist) wants it to be. Personally I do both. Sometimes there is something annoying or distracting in a photo, a piece of rubbish or a blurred bird in the sky……it is not there as a permanent thing, so why not remove it, same with pimple on portraits, the pimple is not WHO that person is, so why leave it? Removing a car from a photo by changing your vantage point, is that the same as digitally removing it? You can make a construct however you see fit by physically moving yourself or camera, you can change focus, focal length, aperture in camera, are they not distorting the image before you?

The photo is my vision of a place or moment in time. Sometimes I adjust the light, the exposure, shadows, contrast, straighten, but that is all I do, make it the best possible version of what I saw. Other times it is straight into Photoshop and I edit it til it no longer resembles the original photo……now it is digital art.But where lies that blurry line between?

What about truth in photojournalism? Is it real, does it exist? In this day and age it is more likely an image has been photoshopped (this is no longer a just software program, it is also now a verb, apparently), than not. Look at all the glossy fashion magazines, they have been known for quite sometime to flawlessly ‘paint’ their subject to perfection. Actually finding mistakes in editing techniques is something of a game these days. What about for newspapers, covering world events, current affairs…can these photos be trusted? How would we even know if we are not there to witness these events for ourselves?

Got you thinking now, haven’t I? This Open University learning course I am taking is something very different for me, it is very technical, which I find a battle in itself. But then the lecturer throws ethics at us, or philosophy, there is hours of extra reading material, assessments and group assignments. I am struggling with the group assignments as well, they are in Google+ , and I seem to be lacking the knowledge, energy and brain power to figure it all out; especially when my mind is mulling over stuff like this……….writing it all down helps.

Til next time……….happy what ever 🙂


11 thoughts on “The Concept of Truth in Photography

  1. Considering the existence of PhotoShop, can truth in photojournalism still exist? Everyone knows at least some of these types alter photos. Aren’t Unicorns horses too? I think it’s great you are taking these courses. I changed my icon by the way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • yes I honestly believe that a photo journalist is there to capture the moment is all it’s honesty, good or bad. It is our eye into events as they happen. Digital art is open to interpretation and the sky is the limit……..but what about that middle ground? Do you make a photo the way you saw it in your mind as what was there or do you leave it to what the camera saw?


      • To me there is no middle ground! The camera does not see like our eyes. The dynamic range peculiar to human eyes cannot currently be duplicated. So I have no problem using anything at my disposal to process the image as I saw it. And what about black and white images? Where do they fit in? They are certainly not honest. Who sees in black and white? And don’t get me started with lens filters or lenses themselves. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Even honesty in the moment is complex. You can capture something that happened, but which moment do you choose out of all those available? We instinctively look for one that symbolises the kind of feeling we want to show. Is the moment truly representative or have we been selective to highlight a moment that is not? Sometimes it clearly is, such as in the aftermath of an attack or a disaster – or during a happy event. Sometimes it isn’t and photographers are looking to prove a point.

        I’m not party-political but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Ed Miliband when they kept taking pictures of him eating things after the bacon sandwich incident. The moments clearly exist, and he isn’t naturally photogenic, as many of us are not, but what a great way to belittle someone who obviously cares. Are we saying we can only have photogenic leaders? And does any moment define a life?

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: The Concept of Truth in Photography | Julie Powell – Photographer & Graphic Artist – Windlight Magazine

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