A major problem with trusting all photography without question comes from human eyes, the human brain and human interpretation and their inherent differences from the actions and designs of a camera. The human eye and the camera both use lenses but the camera can use a variety of different lenses causing potential distortion compared to what we see with the naked human eye. For example a fisheye lens view of the world as seen in Figure 6 is not how a normal human eye would perceive the same event but how a fish might. We see the photograph in Figure 6 with our human eyes and from our perspective that is a distortion of reality, the camera has recorded the event differently than we would have had we been stood in the same place or had a regular photograph of the event. The camera could be said to have lied or distorted the truth. Different filters and film stock can have a similar distorting effect. If a photograph is in black and white or sepia it does not mean that the event was necessarily monochromatic. I know that the real event captured in Figure 7 was
not monochromatic because that is me in the photograph wearing a red T-shirt. The original is Figure 8. As with the use of different lenses, filters and variations in types of film stock are only relevant in telling us if the camera lies or not from a human point of view as a number of animals see in black and white. To these animals the black and white photograph in Figure 7 would seem totally natural and look the same as Figure 8.
The human eye however does not work independently. Visual information from the eye is sent to the brain where it is unravelled and made sense of. Humans, in the most part, will attempt to correct visual conundrums and fill in the gaps on things that do not look or seem right. A photographic example of this is the straightening of tall buildings (Figure 9) which appear to bend towards the sky when seen from the bottom looking straight up. Our eyes see the warping but our brain corrects this by telling us that buildings do not simply bend and this is a straight, tall building appearing to bend due to perspective. Cameras do not have an internal brain that will correct these errors. This can lead to some bizarre seeming pictures coming back from the developers of crooked, leaning building. In photographic form it is more difficult for our brains to fathom the warped structures. (Edwards, 1998).
Another problem with the theory that the ‘camera never lies’ exists due to the differences between cameras and photography and how the human eye can move. Still photography in its very nature is static whereas the human eye is continually diverted and will move outside the subject and around the peripheral to try and establish any context. With photography we have no such opportunity as our eyes can not stray beyond the boundaries of the photographs edges. (Feininger, 1974, 27). To illustrate this I have found a picture of a man working in a greenhouse in Kew Gardens in London. I have cropped Figure 10 from the original Figure 11 using the photo editing package Adobe Photoshop. I have cropped the image so closely to the man that from the evidence available it could be fairly considered that
he is working outside in the tropics. Figure 11 is the original picture without the cropping and shows the outside edges of the greenhouse where the evidence would perhaps point more to the man working indoors. Cropping can lead to misinterpretation or taking photographs out of context whereas being there in person and being able to see ‘around’ the area the photograph cuts out can give us the ‘bigger picture’. This is less the camera lying as it is the camera not telling us all the truth or not giving us all the facts that our eyes would be able to do.
A photograph’s context can also change due to the angle of a shot. A famous televisual example of this came at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona where an archer was set to fire a flaming arrow into the torch setting the whole thing ablaze. (Archer in Figure 12). He fired his arrow and from most camera points of view the arrow went in and the torch lit but from a more peripheral view it was seen that the arrow missed and the torch was ignited by some sort of switch instead. This is best illustrated in the diagram in Figure 13. It is a good example of where the same event seen from a different angle can completely change what the viewer is seeing and believing.
More problems with trusting all photographs come from the design of the camera rather than its inherent differences from human vision. Firstly, when taking a photograph or indoors or in poor light it is standard procedure to use a flash to recreate a bright, artificial light similar to sunlight. This can cause red eye where the subject being photographed will appear to have red iris’s where they normally would not. This can be seen in the example Figure 14 and how it should look in Figure 15. Light can also play a part if film is exposed to light before its development with a strange aurora or glow of read and yellow seeping into the edges of the photograph. Neither the red eyes of the subject or any over exposed glow would have been seen through the view finder of the camera by the photographer who would have taken the picture. Another less common problem arising from camera design comes from the panning cameras used to take wide photographs like school end of year photographs. There have been examples where a student stood on the left of the picture could be included in the photograph on the left and before the camera had finished its pan to the right the same student could run along the back and appear in the same photograph twice. A person viewing the photograph could make the assumption that the ‘two’ people were identical twins but that is also untrue and the camera, through a design fault that can be exploited to ruin formal photographs, has lied to the viewer.
In the most part cameras and photography are a trustworthy form of evidence that does show a subject or event that has been. However, saying ‘the camera never lies’ and trusting the camera as an infallible tool of truth is faith misplaced as there are some examples that dispel the myth. Whether through faked or edited photographs, cropping, perspective, seeing the same event from different angles to change context or inherent faults with cameras and photographic equipment believing everything you see on photographic paper is trust in a medium that can be a wrong or a false reality. Some photographic problems like red eye or changing a buildings perspective can be corrected by simply saying ‘I know it [the subject] is not like that’ but it does not lessen the fact the images captured in the photograph are false or at least not as they appear in real life to human eyes and brains. In the most part photography can be a trusted medium but it is these examples that are the exception to the rule and that confirm that the camera and or photographer can lie.
Word Count: 1909 words
- Edwards, Sue (1998): ‘Photographs as an Interpretation of the World’ WWW Document URL (accessed 14/03/04)
- Feininger, Andreas (1974): Photographic Seeing: how to train your photo-eye, London: Thames and Hudson
- Tagg, John (1988): The Burden of Representation, Basingstoke: Macmillan
References for Photographs
Figure 1 taken from URL
Figure 2 taken from URL
Figure 3 taken from URL
Figure 4 taken from URL
Figure 5 taken from URL
Figure 6 taken from URL http://www.nikon.co.jp/main/eng/society/nikkor/n06_e.htm
Figure 7 taken by John McCartney (personal collection)
Figure 8 taken by John McCartney (personal collection)
Figure 9 taken from URL http://goanna.cs.rmit.edu.au/~winikoff/photos/ny.html
Figure 10 taken from URL
Figure 11 taken from URL
Figure 12 taken from URL
Figure 13 created on Serif Drawplus 5.0
Figure 14 taken from URL
Figure 15 taken from URL