Photography And The Truth

“You Can’t Go Home Again” by Holger Mischke (2014)
In the 1800s, newspapers were featuring drawings as a means to illustrate stories and even though photography was invented around that time (the earliest surviving camera photograph is “View from the Window at Le Gras” by Nicéphore Niépce from 1827), it wasn’t until the 1890s when halftone printing was perfected that photographs appeared in newspapers. By the beginning of the 20th century, drawings were completely replaced by photos.
I believe it is this connection of photographs and news that ultimately led to the “pics or it didn’t happen” attitude of today. Pictures taken by a camera were supposedly showing how it really happened, what it really looked like. Mostly because it is more expensive to print in color, most newspapers kept printing photos in black and white until the early 1980s (the New York Times and The Washington Post even remained in monochrome until the 1990s. Even though a black and white photograph seems to be even further from reality, from the truth.
I say “seems”, because at this point you have to ask yourself what reality and truth really are if you want to discuss whether a photograph can really represent them. Growing up we were lead to believe that there can only be one truth. That it is (as the dictionary says) “the body of real things, events and facts”. But if you wouldn’t stop at that and doubted that “real things” or “facts” were just as “the truth” nothing you could really rely on, you were in trouble. Or about to free yourself.
To be open-minded (among other things) means to be able to accept the possibility of things to happen although they shouldn’t happen. Because science says so. Or religion. Or your parents. You could even go as far as to say IF you consider an outcome as at least possible, as far-fetched as it may seem, the probability of it actually happening, increases.
We must also keep in mind what an impact one’s own perception of the world around us has on what one considers to be real/true. And this perception is, of course, a mosaic composed of everything we ever did, felt, heard, saw and experienced. So I guess it is safe to say that everyone has to some degree a reality of his own.
So even though photos have been considered “the truth” for so long, I find it important to realize they really aren’t. Even if I try to reproduce the scene I saw as true to reality in terms of color, light, depth of field and distortion as possible, it will not be the same to all, we will all see it differently.
So should this frustrate me? That I can’t get the same message across to every single person that views my images? Absolutely not.
I do write some lines for each of my photos and publish those along with them. Which doesn’t mean that I want what I feel looking at the scene or at the image and writing the words to be what the viewer feels. And not only because it is not possible, to begin with.
The photograph must find a viewer who is touched by something in my printed photograph. The viewer and the photograph have to find each other. And in a way, this viewer who feels something looking at my work and I share something on a level of intimacy that mostly will not be acted on, will not be a part of the real world. But will nevertheless be true.

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