Seeing is Believing

I posted my response to the weareoca discussion on ‘Seeing is Believing’ but am posting it here as well

https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/photography/seeing-is-believing/#comment-67513

As many people have commented earlier in this discussion, examples of faked images go right back to the earliest days of photography. If the intent is to deceive us, to persuade us that an untruth is actually true, does it matter anyway? I can’t be any more certain about the death of Osama Bin Laden than I can be sure he ever existed in the first place. I know I can’t empirically prove either statement. I’ve been fooled by what turned out to be obvious fakes in the past, but in general the empirical truth of a photograph doesn’t matter anyway. What matters is that it tells me a story, but that story may or may not be the whole truth. Listening to Slavoj Žižek – and I don’t claim to be able to follow everything he says – makes me think this is what he means by ‘symbolic real’. We cannot prove it ourselves so we have to rely on trust.

Returning to Osama Bin Laden; perhaps it would have been easier to subscribe to the idea that his death had been faked soon after the event. The reasoning given at the time for not releasing a photograph of his corpse is credible. Now that nine years have passed the fact that he has been quiet ever since makes any idea of fakery even harder to believe, or to care. That we are much more aware of how easy it is nowadays to digitally alter an image doesn’t make us any less susceptible to ‘alternative’ facts. David Fletcher (11.02.2018) mentions how some people still believe the moon landings were faked, and that plenty of Donald Trump’s supporters refuse to believe the attendance figures from his inauguration ceremony. We believe what we want to believe and the ease with which photographs can be altered makes us much less prepared to take an image on trust just on its own. We have to rely on supporting evidence, and weight of numbers counts as well. How many otherwise trustworthy sources say the same thing ? Without additional support it is difficult to be certain of any objective truth in a single image. In reality however, it probably doesn’t matter anyway as we are generally going to respond with a subjective truth anyway.

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