Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Thing Itself

In the book The Photographer's Eye, first published in 1966, John Szarkowski describes the photograph as "The Thing Itself".

The first thing that the photographer learned was that photography dealt with the actual; he had not only to accept this fact, but to treasure it; unless he did, photography would defeat him.
"But he learned also that the factuality of his pictures, no matter how convincing and unarguable, was a different thing than the reality itself. Much of the reality was filtered out in the static little black and white image, and some of it was exhibited with an unnatural clarity, an exaggerated importance. The subject and the picture were not the same thing, although they would afterwards seem so. It was the photographer's problem to see not simply the reality before him but the still invisible picture, and to make his choices in terms of the latter.
This was an artistic problem, not a scientific one..."

Photographs can distort reality. Sometimes we remember the photograph rather than the actual event. Memories are prone to distortion. Last week 60 Minutes reported on the flaws in eyewitness testimony. A woman was shown six photos, and told to pick the perpetrator. After studying the photos for five minutes, she picked an innocent man who was later falsely convicted and jailed. A person's schemas can distort memory. A schema is a mental model of an object or event that includes knowledge as well as beliefs and expectations. Memory is also distored by source amnesia, hindsight bias, the overconfidence effect, confabulation...the list goes on. Photographs can then distort memory.

Lee Friedlander, Untitled, 1962

From the Photographer's Eye

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