Truth in Contemporary Photography

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Truth in Contemporary Photography
Assessment Item: Major Essay

Susan Sontag defined the photograph as a ‘trace’ directly stencilled off reality, like a footprint or a death mask. Every photograph is in some sense a document of something else, therefore giving it truthful merit. Photography is seen as a record, a piece of evidence that something happened at some point somewhere, in that time or place in front of the camera, holding its moments in stillness.[1] The photograph seeks to achieve information, truth, acceptance, evidence and existence, which then provides society with a history and individuals with memories and a proof of existence. Putting aside the notion of a photograph never lies, photography has an amazing power to provoke realism from a subject and although in a photograph we may see and know that an image has been constructed, the use of stereotypes, generalisations and the idealisms of a society may be the most influential element of an image, therefore granting it gratification as a reality. There are many different types of photographers throughout the world. In their work most photographers have different goals or have a different purpose or seek achievement depending on their points of view and beliefs on the overall outlook on photography. In this essay I will answer the question is there any need for ‘truth’ in contemporary photography? By looking at three very different photographers. The first Zoriah, an American born documentary photographer. The second Australian photographic Artist, Bill Henson. And finally Persian born fashion and celebrity portrait photographer Mario Testino.

When looking at documentary photography as a genre, it is clear that the documentary photograph does more than simply display information. It allows the viewer to be instructed to some aspects in which truth is revealed, thus allowing a document (the photograph) to be evidence or proof. Documentary photography tells us something about the world, allowing us to think about people and their environment and how they live. According to Arthur Rothstein, the word document is derived from the Latin docere meaning to teach. Rothstein also believed that: “Photography can provide the most precious documents existing”.[2] Rothstein makes a valid point that documentary photography allows us to observe other cultures and environments around the world. It informs us as well as gives us an insight. When looking at a documentary photograph we rarely question it’s truthfulness because of the subject matter and the traditions of the genre. I also agree with Rothstein in his comment - photography can provide the most precious documents existing, as the photograph can be used as proof, showing a person’s innocence or conviction. Also a photograph can be seen as documenting history to show future generations, helping them understand events that play a significant role in previous generations, or simply as proof of human existence.

Zoriah is an award winning documentary photographer. His work has been seen in some of the world Humanitarian Aid to Developing Countries, he has worked for international aid organisations such as the Red Cross before returning to photography after a long absence. With his background in disaster management and humanitarian aid, Zoriah specialises in documenting humanitarian crises in third world countries. He has covered disasters, critical social issues and conflict in over forty countries around the world.

Although photos can act as explicate evidence I believe that at this time we should never trust the photograph as pure evidence. The photograph records or documents objectively; there are ideas that suggest that all documentation is regarded as the truth and evidence. J.Snyder and N.W.Allen explained that we expect to find a certain “documentary” value in photographs and we ask certain “documentary questions”: “Is it authentic?” “Is it correct” and “Is it true”[3] When we observe this point by...
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