And this is not something new. I recall reading that Don McCullin was quite open about the fact that he had laid out some of the young fighter’s personal effects when he created this famous image, because he wanted them to be seen. After all, do they not add a great deal to how we process the scene?
What we know for certain is that photojournalism, the great bastion of photographic integrity, is littered with examples of perception manipulation (which after all, is why the photos are taken in the first place). So, if photojournalism is best approached with an open mind (and recognizing the many factors degrading true objectivity) is there any point in worrying about fidelity in other areas of photography that are more often associated with art?
Garry Winogrand, a photographer who has been in my thoughts a lot lately, touches upon this beautifully in his seemingly obtuse declaration that he photographed ‘to see what things look like when photographed’. He absolutely refused to be drawn on what he was photographing… what actually happened or what things are, because he thought this was so open to question and subjectivity as to be impossible to discuss meaningfully. So, while superficially many of his images appear relatively straight photographs (no Photoshop, obviously!), we do not know the truth behind what he was actually photographing. He did not care, so why should we?
With Winogrand, there is no absolute truth that you, as the viewer, are supposed to arrive at and ‘get’. The photograph becomes whatever you want it to and this has inherent appeal.
We can approach this from another perspective too: do we go to see exhibitions of photographs or exhibitions of a photographer, illustrated by photographs? Usually, I feel it is the latter. If we removed the subjective, deliberate human photographer/editor, would we still be interested? In most cases, I think not. This only goes to show that our interest does indeed lie in the ‘other’ and that the work is just a bridge. If this is the case, we can do whatever we want and know that doing so is just fine, as long as (just as with Hollywood stars and cosmetic surgery) we don’t lie about it!
Personally, I agree with the idea that arts are an expression and exploration of the uniqueness of consciousness, the inherent singularity we are therefore aware of and are constantly striving to escape from. Are we not like children in a boarding school, sent to bed at a fixed time, but delighting in short escapes into other dorms, if only to spend a few minutes crouched beside the bed of another, before sneaking back to their own? I believe so. I think we explore creatively to escape from our isolation within our physical selves and to enjoy that blissful, brief moment of perfect, deeply shared companionship. We could use the same words to describe love. Perhaps both take us to the same place; somewhere shared at a level that transcends any words I can possibly find… the opposite of singularity and loneliness…. where individuals have moments of perfect miscibility. Yes, photography and love make perfect bedfellows: in neither case is fidelity an end of in itself; strong feelings and recognition of their inherent subjectivity should always come first.