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

    After that, the women had their hair shaved off to stuff mattresses, and this is depicted in the film - one of the women later on in the film claimed that she had heard a rumor that this was the motivation for cutting their hair and they weren't actually being kept alive, which is accurate, of course.

  1. Migrations, Case Study

    One of them was its location. This country was located in Latin America, very far away from Europe and all the problems that were found in there.

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

    As all these factors were combined, they provided the perfect " womb" for the reconstitution of the Panchayat system in Trinidad. The original Indian family has been described as a 'patrilocal' joint family in which a line of brothers, their wives and children live in a common household compound with the men's father as the patriarch21.

  1. How reliable and useful is the evidence about Stoke Bruerne?

    exists because that is actually still standing, and used to this day, also we saw it on our visit on the 29th September. Local lore suggested that in January 1796 when work halted that the actual tunnel collapsed but there is actually no evidence to prove it according to the peach book.

  2. Objective histories.

    This argument is backed by the conviction of the fluidity of language and our only way of recapturing the past is through language. No two languages have an identical match between words and things. Meaning is therefore not fixed and cannot be controlled by us, or the authors of the texts we study.

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

    This is a common feature in contemporary post-modernist novels where the omniscient Victorian narrator is not present, and also helps to recognise the relative and subjective nature of truth and reality. Because the reader is left to follow the own personal path through the novel, the idea is introduced that there are no absolute truths.

  2. Live Simply That Others May Simply Live

    All obstacles had now been taken away and in September 1888 at the age of 19 Gandhi left for England leaving his 3-month-old 1st born child a boy named Harilal. Vegetarianism was one of these laws and Gandhi was determined it would remain important to him not due to tradition

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