the truth and nothing but

By | photography

So Doisneau used family members as actors in his photographs. “The kiss” is certainly no spontaneous action observed by a quickly reacting photographer, it was planned and staged! And yes, the gentleman standing on the running board of a late night London cab doesn’t only resemble Bill Brandt, it’s his brother. Even Capa’s falling soldier in Spain acted out his “dying”, as is proven by several takes of this “shot” with the same background (the original negatives surfaced not long ago in a trunk on somebody’s attic!). And I could go on… Is this “a sin against the principles, even the true nature of photography” as I hear some people arguing, even those who have no problem with Photoshop and the likes being applied with far less grace and taste…

A description is always true to itself, why are we so harsh on photographs that betray our preconception that a photograph, especially a classic one, should be representative, truthful and unmanipulated. Maybe because we want a photograph  to fulfill the role we demand from it that it should have a narrative function. We want dearly to read a so-called meaning into it, in fact a “story” to comfort us. But is there life beyond the frame? Sure, but we sometimes make it up in our craving for explanations, if not easy solutions. We have to accept some photographs as icons, they do exist on their own, creating their own symbolic “truth” irrespective of context. What you get is not necessarily what you (hope to) see.

Szarkowski misquoted on Capa

By | photography

“Every picture tells a story, don’t it”, Rod Stewart sings… Well…no, not if it’s a photograph. Garry Winogrand says there isn’t a photograph in the world that tells a story, and consequently he doesn’t have any storytelling responsability. He should know, he has taken a few in his lifetime. A photograph shows what something looks like…to a camera. Szarkowski agrees; the great MoMA scholar was a personal friend of Winogrand (it was him who first recognized the photographer’s importance, and in fact genius), and must have discussed this subject with him.

In “Photography: a Critical Introduction” (third edition) edited by Liz Wells there is an almost Freudian misquotation of the text written by John Szarkowski from “The Photographer’s Eye”: “The great war photographer Robert Capa expressed both the narrative property [sic] and the symbolic power of photography when he said “If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not close enough.”  This should have read “narrative poverty” since this is the point Szarkowski is making! To a lot of people it really remains very hard to believe there is no story in the photograph, and we don’t find the clear cut truth most of us seem to find so comforting. “Your photograph is like a little story” is still considered a compliment, since people assume that’s what you are striving for; and it’s not nice to ask, “what story…”