Most of what I'm about to write about is based on my own opinion, but much of it is influenced by reading, discussion, and ideas that I've accumulated over the past fifteen to twenty years. That said, I in no way claim that any of what I am going to say is set in stone, however, that statement alone lends itself to the whole debate of truth and fiction.
While driving home the other night I began to think about what I might write about the next time I sat down to type a blog. Having had some interesting interactions over the previous few days, none of which had to do with photography, I began to think about how I might be able to tie these feelings into a blog. The word that first came to mind was honesty. Like most people, I'd assume, I try to be as honest as possible with whoever I come in contact with. Don't get me wrong, I know we all lie or bend the truth here and there. Sometimes we lie to shorten a story, sometimes its to hide something from someone, but there is a time and place that we all lie. Not telling the truth can be socially acceptable, yet in certain situations it can get us in trouble. Truth and honesty are both simple and complex at the same time, and this too is true with the photographic image.
In the style of shooting that I normally work, "street photography" for lack of a better term, I like to think that my images are as honest and truthful to what ends up in the images as possible. I'm normally walking around and shooting what I see, I don't move anything from where it is when I find it. In the time that the shutter is open, all that is rendered onto the sensor/film was there when I leave, just like when I arrived. In a way, I take pride in this. There is, however, a small amount of dishonesty to this. I say that everything was as I found it, but was it really? This is where the lines start to get blurred.
I find something that catches my eye, that is true, but in a way that is where the truth ends. As soon as something presents itself the manipulating begins. That's right, the manipulating. Framing and image, moving myself to a better vantage point, using exposure to make the image more appealing to my own ideas; all of these things are me manipulating a scene.
Don't get me wrong, though, I don't get myself hung up on this concept as I shoot. If I did I would be stuck in a vicious cycle of confusion from which no work would ever be produced. The end goal for me is an image that I find appealing, and hopefully so do others. The viewer, in my case, need not be concerned about the subtle changes I may have made. I will tell you what you see in the image is what was there and my image will allow you to believe it's true. See how blurred the lines are?
In today's world we have started to question the truth and validity of images that we see. It used to be that as a society we would look at an image in the newspaper and "know" that it told the truth, but as time has gone by and technologies have changed and advanced we find ourselves more apt to question an image. I find myself constantly questioning images of supposedly amazing phenomena online due to the ease with which we can now manipulate images. Unfortunately, due to this ease, the questioning of truth in images has extended into the realm of journalism.
There have been cases in the past few years of images being considered for the Pulitzer Prize being dismissed due to over manipulation. That is not to say that the photographer wasn't there, but that the image was so manipulated that the truth of the image was lost. The problem here is that we have a history of expecting journalism to tell the truth and be objective. It is the objectivity that is lost with the manipulation, and therefore also the truth.
On the side of photography as an art, though, it would be hard to ask for the absolute truth. I'll give someone the full truth if they can fully tell me what "art" is. The truth from an image as art is the same truth that one might expect from a painting, it is in the eye of the artist. Did the artist see what they wanted right in front of them, or did they have an idea in their head that the subject was merely a component of? Who is the viewer to say?
As you can probably tell, this is a very convoluted, and at times, simple concept. The photograph walks a line of truth and lies that no other medium is ever asked to even come close to. The truth is out there, it just might not be right in front of the viewer.