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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre General Photography Talk 
Thread started 07 Mar 2011 (Monday) 00:25
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What is truth?

 
Clean ­ Gene
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Mar 07, 2011 00:25 |  #1

In photography, what is truth, and what is a lie?

Is the truth an accurate representation of reality, as close to objective as possible? Or is the "truth" how a particular photographer saw what he was shooting?

More specifically, WHO decides truth? The photographer, or the audience? Is truth something which is inherently internalized within the artist? Or does the entire notion of "truth" cease to have any meaning outside of the added baggage projected onto the art by the audience?

After all, the artist is the only one who knows what the artist is thinking. Then, by what standard can a bystander look at one artist's works and say "that artist's works are more true than another artist's"?

Is truth all in the INTENT? About what the artist wanted that particular piece of art to accomplish, and whether or not it actually accomplished that goal? And if that's the case, does truth alone make a piece of art a GOOD work of art?

The thing is...when I look at things like photography, I see a HELL of a lot of choices that the photographer can make. But to what extent are word like "truth" and "lies" even applicable? What exactly do those words even MEAN, when the very nature nature of photography (or any other visual art for that matter) implies a deliberate manipulation of what is real? What is "truth" and what is a "lie", and to what extent can any piece of art reasonably be called "more true than another piece of art" by anyone other than the artist?

What IS photographic truth, what are photographic lies, and how much of that is dependant on the artist vs the audience?




  
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FlyingPhotog
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Mar 07, 2011 00:44 |  #2

Since you invited people over here, I'll toss this out as fodder...

I've said this before but IMO, photographers breaks down into two categories:
1) Those Who Capture
2) Those Who Create

The first group strives to give as clean and pure a version of the scene as possible. Throwing out all biases, assumptions, preferences or deductions, what you see in their images is what you'd have seen with your own eyes had you been standing there yourself.

The second group is as open to interpretation as open can be.
Neither are right and neither are wrong.

If you visit my site, you'll see I tend to gravitate towards the first group with occasional forays into the second.


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ssim
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Mar 07, 2011 00:45 |  #3

Huh?? Are you smoking something funny.

The only time truth comes to photography, imo, is when it comes to news agencies and their photographers only shown what it taken without manipulation.

When someone looks at a landscape shot (for example) their interpretation is correct to them and there is no right or wrong, truth or lie in this type of a shot.

I'm not sure what you are trying to discuss as it seems to be a rambling post, imo.


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FlyingPhotog
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Mar 07, 2011 00:49 |  #4

He makes a valid point IMO...

For example, when we look at a waterfall, we don't see it the way it looks with a 10-stop ND filter where the water is total cotton candy. Or take a walk on the beach... Do we see water that looks like there's 2' of fog over the top of it like very long exposures make it look? No...

Having said that, the feeling or emotion of being there can be expressed at 1/5000 or at 10 minutes. Like I said, neither is right and neither is wrong.

Either way, "Truth" is what I determine it to be as the photographer. The viewer either gets on board with my interpretation or they don't.


Jay
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Clean ­ Gene
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Mar 07, 2011 00:56 |  #5

ssim wrote in post #11970994 (external link)
Huh?? Are you smoking something funny.

The only time truth comes to photography, imo, is when it comes to news agencies and their photographers only shown what it taken without manipulation.

When someone looks at a landscape shot (for example) their interpretation is correct to them and there is no right or wrong, truth or lie in this type of a shot.

I'm not sure what you are trying to discuss as it seems to be a rambling post, imo.

I'd tend to agree, but apparently I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. So I just thought I'd present this concept to see what other people think about it.

Is truth external or internal? Is it entirely dependant on what the artist sees, or does the audience decide that?

And does deliberately manipulating the displayed product add to truth, or detract from it? If I make something look "unrealistic", then am I LYING or am I simply being more true?

And furthermore, outside of documentary and news photography, to what extent is "truth" even RELEVANT?




  
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StuJohnston
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Mar 07, 2011 01:00 as a reply to  @ ssim's post |  #6

You mention Art. Consider art outside of photography. How many paintings would you characterize as being completely accurate depictions of their subjects. Such as Van Gogh's "The potato eaters". While it is probably a fair description of how Van Gogh felt about this family at the time, it is unlikely that they actually looked like that. While there are countless images of the crucifix, how many of those do you think were created while Jesus hung on the cross?

Personally, I feel that realism is trivial when it comes to art. I don't have any expectation that any piece of art that I take in needs to be completely representational of of some thing or event. I am not really interested in making artistic photography personally, but I do know that I have taken photos that put the people I photograph in different lights than I normally see them. Any of which may not tell the 'Truth.'

I just had the thought that 'Truth' could be contained in the exif file. As far as I am concerned, the only people that should worry about the 'Truth' are photojournalists (are sports photographers in this group?.




  
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Mar 07, 2011 01:12 |  #7

FlyingPhotog wrote in post #11971012 (external link)
Either way, "Truth" is what I determine it to be as the photographer. The viewer either gets on board with my interpretation or they don't.

And here I think is the meat of the argument.

Suppose Joe makes a photograph which he thinks is totally awesome and richly layered with meaningful subtext or whatever. He thinks it is the most honest and truthful piece of art that he's ever made. He then shows it to people and people say that it is crap. Just to present an extreme example, let's pretend that Joe's picture was also an ugly picture with overdone HDR and grunge effect added. And it contains a ring projecting the image of a heart.

To Joe, it is incredibly meaningful, the most honest expression he's ever made through art. Everyone else says that it doesn't mean ****, and is just a load of fluff. At that point, does it even MATTER how "true" or "false" it is? Does the audience's assessment of the picture as a piece of trashy fluff INVALIDATE the way that the artist feels about it?

Or is it like...Joe's assessment of his picture is entirely correct, but he merely should have considered which audience would share the same sentiments?




  
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FlyingPhotog
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Mar 07, 2011 01:21 |  #8

Your mixing your arguments I think...

Are we talking "truth" in content or "truth" in presentation?

If Joe neither pastes in anything that wasn't there nor clones out anything that was, it's still true in terms of what physically was there to be photographed. Processing doesn't alter that fact. HDR, B&W, Sepia, DuoTone, Selenium, etc...

Processing (to me) is simply a means to convey what you felt about what you encountered.


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Mar 07, 2011 01:47 |  #9

FlyingPhotog wrote in post #11971155 (external link)
Your mixing your arguments I think...

Are we talking "truth" in content or "truth" in presentation?


Couldn't it go either way, in regards to either content OR presentation?

As far as content goes, let's take an easy example. A picture meant to support a particular agenda. Propaganda, if you will. The CONTENT might support a particular ideology, but someone could equally well dismiss that as being a lie. That's a rather simplistic example, but it's an obvious and easily understood one which I think works.

As far as presentation, there can also equally well be up to personal interpretation by the audience. Someone might sepia tone the hell out of a picture because they think it works, audiences might think that's a cheap gimmick. I might make a clean print and make it presentable, or I might run the thing through a meat grinder before displaying it because its ugliness actually says something important. People might get on board with my intentions, or they might just see a giant pile of crap. I'm less concerned with that. I'm rather more concerned with whether truth/quality/intent is defined more by me or by the audience. Is that equally defined by both the artist AND the audience? And to what extent does that even MATTER, outside of the context of which audience the artist decides to display it to?

After all, I could take pictures or make drawings or paint stuff for 50 years and never show it to ANYONE. Don't things like "quality" or "truth" ONLY become relevant once an audience enters the picture, and doesn't the importance of "quality" or "truth" depend in HUGE part on exactly which audience it is being shown to?




  
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Mar 07, 2011 01:49 |  #10

I'd say that truth in photography or other art is just a microcosm of "truth" in the "big bad world".

Go ahead and pick your concept of "truth": scientifically verifiable fact? Gotcha! Scientific theory with some facts to back it up? Gotcha! Religious mix of a bit of science and faith? Gotcha! Pure religion that rejects "traditional" science? Gotcha! The "feeling" that something must be true because I "feel" it is? Gotcha!

So, in that sense, "truth" becomes kinda meaningless...except to you the individual. Use a different term to apply to "journalistic" or "documentaryist" photographer, and another to "artist" that is not laden with a kind of judgement but rather simply a description of what is what!


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FlyingPhotog
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Mar 07, 2011 01:58 |  #11

Again, I think you're asking two different questions...

1) What is my truth?
2) What is the viewer's truth?

The first one I know. The second I can't control... From where I sit with a camera, the "object of the game" is to close the gap between 1 and 2 as much as possible. Others may feel the need to blow open as wide a chasm as possible.

As far as I'm concerned, all I can do as a photographer is interpret the world around me through one lens at one moment in time. How my perception is received and interpreted is beyond my control. If I never want to know what others think about my point of view, then I need to just keep my 1s and 0s to myself and never share an image.

Once I post an image, "truth" becomes a moving target in so much as the audience is welcome to see what they want to see.


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Mar 07, 2011 02:12 |  #12

FlyingPhotog wrote in post #11971271 (external link)
Again, I think you're asking two different questions...

1) What is my truth?
2) What is the viewer's truth?

The first one I know. The second I can't control... From where I sit with a camera, the "object of the game" is to close the gap between 1 and 2 as much as possible. Others may feel the need to blow open as wide a chasm as possible.

As far as I'm concerned, all I can do as a photographer is interpret the world around me through one lens at one moment in time. How my perception is received and interpreted is beyond my control. If I never want to know what others think about my point of view, then I need to just keep my 1s and 0s to myself and never share an image.

Once I post an image, "truth" becomes a moving target in so much as the audience is welcome to see what they want to see.



But isn't that simply a matter of picking the appropriate audience? Isn't that simply a matter of "closing the gap" between what is true to the artist and what is true to the audience?

I mean...I've got stuff that I like that I'll never show anyone. So I don't. If I were to show those pictures, then doesn't the mere act of doing so make the quality/truth/whatever depend on the perceptions of people OTHER than me? And at that point, how useful is it for me to hold fast to my idea that it was the truth, when the entire audience (other than myself) says that it is crap?

MY truth was important as soon as I took the picture. But if that was my only concern, being true to myself, then would I really have ever shown it to anyone else in the first place? Doesn't the mere act of presenting it to a larger audience sort of indicate that THEIR concerns and opinions and feelings are as relevant as mine? The second that I decide to show it to a larger audience, don't THEIR truths become just as important as mine? Otherwise, why am I showing it to them in the first place?




  
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FlyingPhotog
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Mar 07, 2011 02:26 |  #13

We're starting to go around in circles here so I'll beg off by agreeing with you that if you never show images to anyone, your truth will remain as intact as you desire it to be.

The moment you open yourself up to a wider audience, their truth is every bit as valid as yours.

There's a reason the saying "One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure" exists....

I hope you find a satisfactory answer to this burning question. It really comes across that you are seriously conflicted on this issue. Whether or not that's true is, I guess, open to interpretation.


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Mar 07, 2011 02:36 |  #14

I suspect you are having a problem using the word truth in this context.
What you seem to be asking is which is more valid - the photographers interpretation of the the subject or the viewers interpretation of the resulting photograph.
As far as I'm concerned it's the photographers original intent which is more valid at least to them.
The views of the audience are more subject perhaps to current fashions in photography and most importantly they do not know what the original photographers intentions were.
I saw a wonderful thread on another photographic forum where the photographer had been posting for a few years and taking on board all the suggestions/critique of their photgraphy and then suddenly realised they were taking photographs that the audience liked but they personally did not like.

ie Take photographs that you like but when viewing them try to view them as if they were someone else's photographs. If you still like them then you are doing the right thing!

Brian v.


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Mar 07, 2011 08:10 as a reply to  @ LordV's post |  #15

Don't confuse truth with honesty. You can honestly feel something that may or may not be the truth to someone else. A greater man than I said there are 3 sides to every story. Your truth, my truth and the real truth is in between. Thats why we have courts and judges.

Take Platos Cave. Someone stuck in a cave all their lives and have only seen the wall of that dark cave has a much different truth than someone that has seen the shadows on that same wall being projected by the flame of a fire and the person that has been outside that cave has a much different truth than the one that has only seen shadows on the cave wall. And once you've seen the world outside the cave, is that dark world inside still the only truth?

:confused:

What we choose to photograph and how we photograph says a good deal about who we are. Now I am talking personal work, not professional though sometimes the two do meet.

Heres what Minor White had to say about it.
"all photographs are selfportraits." - Minor White

"When I looked at things for what they are I was fool enough to persist in my folly and found that each photograph was a mirror of my Self." - Minor White

Adams
"To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live or are latent in all things. Impression is not enough. Design, style, technique, - these, too, are not enough. Art must reach further than impression or self-revelation. Art, said Alfred Stieglitz, is the affirmation of life. And life, or its eternal evidence is everywhere."-Ansel Adams

There is a lot of really good reading out there by some of the greats that have struggled with this very issue. One thing that I've read and seen over the years is that all the greats in all art forms had one thing in common; they were making honest expressions of how they saw and or felt about the world. Even those that wrote fiction.

To the OP, great topic BTW...




  
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What is truth?
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