• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

How reliable is the photograph as a historical source?

Extracts from this document...


Concepts and Methods. Avril Smith 14/11/01 How reliable is the photograph as a historical source? In his posthumously published book Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes writes 'It is the advent of the Photograph ... which divides the history of the world'. His faith in the photograph is so strong that he also claims that now this form of evidence is available 'the past is as certain as the present'. 1 In attempting to answer the question 'How reliable is the photograph as a historical source', this faith must inevitably be challenged. It will be necessary to look at how photographs have been used by historians and to consider what they have contributed to our understanding of the past. The question of whether it was possible to manipulate images in the early days and if there were other methods of falsification which would undermine the veracity of photographic evidence, must be asked. Some well known 'frauds' will be examined and the impact of developing technology on our ability to trust what we see, will be examined. I will touch briefly on one or two instances where the use of a particular photograph has been vindicated by later evidence, and areas of historical study that may seem less open to deception will be considered. ...read more.


What Conan Doyle was not aware of, was that Elsie, the older girl was an artist and had spent some time working for a photographer.8 As photo-technology has advanced, more and more methods have become available to the person intent on fraud. Whether this is the con-man wanting to cash in on the gullibility of the public or the propagandist whose cause is not sufficiently strong to stand alone, the camera has provided a means to an end. Even quite innocent deceptions add to the case against the reliability of the photograph as a historical source. O.R. Croy describes how to photograph live frogs swimming apparently in a pond, without the necessity for snorkelling equipment, in his book Croys Camera Trickery. One simply places them in a glass tank with the appropriate scene pasted on the back! 9 In an article about the deceptions practiced by wildlife photographers, Kenneth Brower describes the many 'fake' representations produced by apparently trustworthy organisations. Here he recalls Alan Roots' account of a colleagues' attempt to capture a typical safari scene for the cover of Life magazine, 'the image had begun in the mind of one of the magazine's editors. By a kind of redactional clairvoyance this editor, seated comfortably at his desk in Manhattan, had seen it all clearly: leopard and its kill in thorn tree, branches framing a setting sun. ...read more.


One photomanipulation website boasts 'From simply adding a person's head into a group photo to putting your 80 year old grandmother on a snowboard, we're the masters of photomanipulation.' They also claim to be able to give your photographs the appearance of an original watercolour, oil or antique painting or pencil or charcoal sketch'.14 Also, whilst the subject of a photograph may appear to be clear, the viewer cannot know what has been left out or how the scene may have appeared from another angle. The event depicted may have been posed or shown out of context, as photographs used by the Nazis often were. This is not to say that photographs are worthless, or should never be used. In much the same way as with oral history, whilst they may not be seen to provide hard, concrete data, they convey a sense of the past in a way that a written record may not. But the question asks how reliable the photograph is as a historical source and the term 'reliable' equates to 'that can be relied on' and as has been shown, there are relatively few instances where the information gleaned from a photograph can be absolutely relied on. Photographs can and must be used by historians, but with caution and with the proviso that seeing should not always be believing. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE History Projects section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE History Projects essays

  1. Evaluate the arguments for and against oral history as an historical method.

    for knowledge and the protection of what we believe to know as truth. Individuallity is now encourged in the contemporary captialist society and with which will come new was of thinking, and new methods of recording history, or the truth.

  2. How Reliable is Schindler's List As A Representation of the Holocaust?

    They had been deceived from the beginning until the end - the only hint at their fate was the cruelty being dished out. This idea of deception is echoed by Bakon and Willenberg again. In regards to the cruelty they encountered, there is a scene in Schindler's List that is particularly prominent in my mind regarding this.

  1. Thucydides' historical technique.

    Thucydides shows from the opening lines of his history that it was his vocation to records the events, and therefore remained unbiased by events throughout the war, and concentrates rather on recording the events, and including some of his own analysis.

  2. The Impacts of crusades on European and Middle Eastern Historical development.

    hundred years of war, sacred journeys and the quest for Loot, he believes that many crusaders joined for reasons rather than riding the Holy Land of the Infidels; including power, territory, riches, and just plain adventure. Most people want to think of a crusader as a "...figure of brave self-effacement,

  1. The Panchayat system as an early form of conflict resolution in Trinidad.

    The Panchayat would have met in the village of anyone of the parties. Invitations were sent any time before the meeting, from a full week to only a few hours ahead. The meetings were held after work, in the late afternoons often moving into the night.

  2. Life of Oliver Cromwell

    But for many of them to be civilians and not soldiers makes the entire case more controversial.

  1. Live Simply That Others May Simply Live

    and Smuts got his wish Gandhi never did set foot in South Africa again. Gandhi was now 45 and a celebrity known through India for sataygraha's success and entered a world about to change with the onset of World War 1.

  2. De Bernieres describes History as 'Hearsay tempered with myth and hazy memory.' How does ...

    All evidence can be manipulated, edited and presented in such as way as to support a historian's opinion, thereby making it an interpretation. Throughout history, official records have been altered and deleted, expunging "historical blot[s]" as fits the bias of the powerful.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work