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Evidence • Posted: Jun 03, 2022 16:51:28Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

I’ve been reading a collection of classic essays on photography lately, edited by Alan Trachtenberg. Over and over again, the question being asked is “What makes photography, as a medium of communication, special or unique?” And, over and over again, within those essays, what has been pointed to is that an unadulterated photograph can record things that were undeniably true at the moment that particular image was made.

With nearly 60 years of experience making, developing, and printing photographs of my own making and of those made by others, I can tell you that that assertion is a wishful delusion, at least for those who have written the essays in that volume.

We live in an age where efforts to create the illusion of truth dwarfs any and all efforts to faithfully render and convey the reality of truth, whether it be through the medium of photography, film, video, or language. And in the process, I believe we are all losing touch with something that had been common to all of us. With no commonly shared sense and understanding of existential reality, we as both individuals and groups of individuals are increasingly faced with incomprehensible disjunction from our fellow humans.

It is entirely possible that in the not too distant future, some few of us will be able to “hack” the brains of all the rest of us, to the extent that we literally will not be able to tell the difference between what is true and what is fiction. And it won’t be using just externally created sound and imagery as in VR. It will be via a direct connection to the information processing centers of our brains. Restored sight to the blind, restored connection to limbs of spine damaged patients, restored hearing to the deaf, corrections to brain malfunctions involving mood, hallucination, autism, and dyslexia are all impending miracles of science. But, each one of these to be heralded interventions is also likely to increasingly allow for the introduction of externally manufactured distortion of truths that would normally arrive unadulterated through our own senses.

At this point, I don’t know what the answer to that particular hazard is, except to be increasingly vigilant regarding what is and is not existentially true, true for any and all of us as long as we are willing and able to confront it.

Regarding the images above, they were made on the same day within three city blocks of each other. Beyond my own largely unintentional personal biases in making, selecting, and presenting them in conjunction with each other, very little has been done to enhance detail or eliminate possible distortions of information they contain, and absolutely nothing was done to “stage” what is depicted. As has been stated before, my overwhelming intention within this forum has always been to faithfully render and convey what I believe to be true.

So, what exactly do those two images above convey? At first glance an average viewer might say, “Oh, that’s easy, a stone head and some black guy making a silly face for the camera.” To which I would say, “I don’t think you’ve actually looked at those images very carefully.”

And that really is the problem we all face for our future. It is getting increasingly difficult to not only recognize what is true, but determine what is worth spending time and effort to understand, accept, and adapt to whatever we eventually discover to be true.

In case you need help interpreting the above photographs, I’ll offer this. The stone head is, I believe, ancient Roman and was once part of a full body statue. If I’m not mistaken, it was and probably still is on display at Chicago’s Art Institute. What I feel is salient about the piece is its condition. It was obviously well crafted in celebration of a person of ruling class. But, I do not automatically conclude damage to the figure’s nose occurred by accident. The self-satisfied mischievous smile on the black man’s face opposite has me wondering if maybe it wasn’t one of his distant relatives that broke that ruling person’s nose for decidedly good reason.

As to the photo of the black man, I watched and photographed him confronting the group of white teens behind him for nearly thirty minutes. They were behaving badly on Chicago’s Daley Plaza, even climbing on the Picasso sculpture to the extent police had to pull them off. The black man had been admonishing them their bad behavior while they in return jeered at him with both class and racial slurs. In the end, he turned toward me and broadly grinned, self-satisfied that he was the better person. And, I had to agree. I still do.

Make the effort to understand what is actually true. Comparing what was true before with what is true now will always be worth the effort. Trust in the process. Reality itself will never let you down. And in the long run, your efforts using that process may eventually help us all find mutually respected common ground.

Tuesday, December 16th, 1969