Choice is an absolute. Much like the difference between archives and collections there is an element of choice involved to focus the subject matter towards the questions you want to answer. Photographers employed to document the plight of the Dust Bowl and Depression in rural America had to do just that. As an extension of what they saw, a camera’s lens and the photographs it produces are at the core how a photographer views the world. Most would assume the image is an objective truth, but as we read in The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock, it isn’t always black and white. Not only do photographers have some level of bias omnipresent but photo manipulation, original intent, captions, and viewer beliefs play a huge role in how an image is perceived.
Photographic manipulation at any stage mars its documentary and historical status. I’m not saying that staged photos are not historical – if taken during the event, then there is value, but without proper explanation it may be misconstrued as straight fact. The movement of items or coaching of subjects in supposedly documentary photographs give a false perception of truth. Like the short quiz shows if the intent is propaganda, photojournalism, or art – the viewer takes that into account and that colors their interpretation.
Once something comes out as doctored it is hard to change. The FSA manipulation disputes actually reminded me of the initial reports of the images of the Marine flag raisings on Iwo Jima. AP photographer Joe Rosenthal took the now famous image (in photo and statue form) of the second flag raising and sent it off. Everyone just assumed it was the first cheered flag raising (the one that actually meant something) and it took a long time for people to recognize it as such.

I posted on Kater’s blog.

2 thoughts on “Decisions…decisions

  1. That Iwo Jima series of photographs is interesting. I know you’ve had to have had your fill of questions about it working at the Marine Museum and the Naval Academy Museum. We still get calls about it and one of our curators even did a Mysteries at the Museum vignette explaining the entire story. The second flag raising has a corresponding color film that went along with it.

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