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Grumpy Old Ganz

Is Seeing Believing?

Recently, I have been going through my pictures making an archival record of my work. It got me to thinking and I started pondering this question: Does a photograph tell the truth? After some thought, I had to answer “no” because it doesn’t always...

Some people view a photo as art, a historical document, it can be forensic evidence or some other type of expressionism. Without an explanation of a certain photo, at times, it can change the perspective or even your interpretation of what you are seeing.

Not too long ago, I took a picture of a frost crystal which could’ve been viewed as art, maybe history to some or a weather event. It would have been up to the viewer to decide.

When taking photos at sporting events, it’s not possible to run all the photos taken before or after a certain play. We pick one or two that best represent the game in general. In the cutline under the photo, we try to cover the who, what, when, etc. in a short explanation of what happened to record history which is part of our job. This leads me back to a picture portraying the truth. Someone could interpret a photo or cutline as one team winning when actually the opposite team won (maybe because of the expressions in the photo or the scores in the cutline).

Another example is wedding and family photos. Do they always tell the truth? A photographer can give an “illusion” of happiness when taking a family photo when in reality the “truth” is that not all the family members get along, but it is not evident in the picture, misleading the viewer. Sometimes photographs are simply documentation of an event such as a family gathering.

One famous photo of “Billy the Kid” (born Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William H. Bonney) is a prime example of my question about a photograph being truthful or does it leave you with a false impression? The image shows Billy wearing a revolver on his left side which led some to believe he was left-handed. However, they didn’t take into account during that era that the ferrotype (photography) process produced reversed images. In 1954, James D. Horan and Paul Sann recorded Billy as being right-handed and that he carried his pistol on his right side. This opinion was confirmed by a former curator of the National Film and Television Archive, while others have written he was ambidextrous (able to use right and left hands equally well).

They say “seeing is believing”... or is it?


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