1d Photography as truth

[7Jan20, [1, p.44]] We are directed to a section of Liz Wells’ Photography: A Critical Introduction [2, pp.73-5], The real and the digital, with the question, ‘Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth? Consider both sides of the argument.

Fig. 1
Stalin c.1930
photographer n.k.

Wells (or rather Derrick Price who wrote Chapter 2) notes that image manipulation is nothing new, and we have already mentioned the Stalin era and fig. 1, c.1930, is an example with the removal of Nikolai Yezhov, chief of the Soviet secret police [3]. But the capability of modern digital technology is enabling entirely new levels of artifice. [In the week this is written, the BBC has reported ‘Facebook has announced it will remove videos modified by artificial intelligence, known as deepfakes, from its platform [4]. As Campany, reported earlier in Part 1, regarding ‘late photography’, videos are the medium through which news is mostly consumed and most news ‘photographs’ are now stills extracted from videos.
Price seems to suggest that while it has long been generally acknowledged that photographs are malleable, there was a general consensus (‘through the structure of discursive, social and professional practices which constituted photography‘) to believe photographs but that this is now breaking down.

To address the question specifically, it is the case that the public now has less trust in photographs as representing truth or reality, but on an individual basis, this depends on the context: for example, it is likely that a regular Guardian reader would tend to accept photographs accompanying Guardian articles as accurate representations of events, but that same person would be more mistrustful of photographs in a newspaper that they did not respect.

1. Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

2. Wells, L. (2009) Photography: a critical introduction . (4th edn.). Abingdon: Routledge.

3. Bronx Documentary Center (n.d.) Altered Images [online]. alteredimagesbdc.org. Available from http://www.alteredimagesbdc.org/stalin [Accessed 8 January 2020].

4. Shead, S. (2020) Facebook to ban ‘deepfakes’ [online]. bbc.co.uk. Available from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-51018758 [Accessed 8 January 2020].