Who says the lens never lies? As images play an ever stronger part in our engagement with world events, Connie Fisher explores the fine line treaded by photojournalism between communication and exploitation and urges us not to fall victim to the art of manipulation.
The live news icon on my computer’s home screen scrolls through headline images, to which my immediate reaction is frequently a feeling of discomfort. This is not due to the content of the news articles, but rather to something I feel is integrally problematic with the photos themselves. There are images of lonely, tattered children backed by Syrian refugee camps, which are hauntingly beautiful, and carefully composed shots of women lifting their hands to the sky amid the rubble of the Gaza conflict, which remind one of a work of art. In many of the widely distributed images of world issues, there seems to be an incongruous and unsettling combination of reportage and art.
We can assess photography according to a scale of purpose and context. At one extreme is journalistic photography, which we believe solely intends to accurately represent the reality of a situation. At the other extreme is photography as an art form, creating images of what we might call beauty. This can be created pre-capture through the composition of the photograph, the content of the frame, or the quality of the image, and also in post-capture digital editing.
The difficulty comes when an image doesn’t sit neatly on either side of the scale. We trust the media to provide us with objective images, to act as our eyes in that which we cannot witness first-hand. However, since the very introduction of photography, we have been aware of its ability to manipulate reality, only ever really able to produce one fixed, time-captured viewpoint, never ‘the whole picture’. High-quality modern cameras even have the ability to enhance reality to the point where life looks clearer through a camera, where people look more beautiful. Continue reading