The camera never lies

What is it about photographs? No matter how many news stories break about faked photographs or how many magazine covers feature ludicrously thinned down celebrities, people still believe photographs are “real”. Isn’t it strange that an attitude which evolved in the 19th century, at the dawn of photography, still garners such strong attitudes; “The camera never lies”. Nonsense. A photograph is never a true depiction of reality because 2D static images are not how we, as human beings, experience reality, so they are always interpretive.

Even if we look at it from a less philosophical perspective and just consider some of the basic choices a photographer makes when taking a photo; shutter speed for example. Shutter speed can radically change our perception of a scene; from recording motion as waves and blurs, to freezing a moment that would otherwise be impossible for our eyes and brains to even register. Aperture, to control depth of field, can either render a scene in pin sharp clarity from foreground to background, not at all how our eyes work, or narrow the point of focus to artificially draw our eye to a feature of the photographer’s choice. Then there’s the absolute fundamental, what the photographer chooses to point the camera at and, just as importantly, what he or she chooses to leave out of the frame…..

Also, this is not just a result of the digital era, as some people, nostalgically driven, would have you believe. Photographs have always been manipulated. Photographers have chosen what kind of film to use, what chemicals and processes used to develop the film and then what paper, chemicals and processes used to create prints; all of which have a huge effect on the final image.

I wonder how long it will take for popular perception of photographs to change, or if it ever will. Maybe one day people will realise that photographs are created images, that are fashioned in an attempt to show the viewer whatever it is the photographer wants them to see.

Capa’s most famous photograph

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