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This blog is intended to showcase my pictures or those of other photographers who have moved beyond the pretty picture and for whom photography is more than entertainment - photography that aims at being true, not at being beautiful because what is true is most often beautiful..

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« urban ku # 134 ~ 'truth' | Main | urban ku # 134 ~ abiding care »

civilized ku # 61 ~ $57,000 worth of 'civilized'

A Burtynsky Quarry triptychclick to embiggen
While we're on the subject of 'truth', I came across this from Pablo Picasso re: the act of putting pigment on canvas; "Something sacred, that's it. It's a word we should be able to use, but people would take it the wrong way. You ought to be able to say a painting is as it is, with its capacity to move us, because it is as though it were touched by God .... that is what's nearest to the truth."

Interesting words and thought from a Communist and a dedicated atheist.

IMO, it seems that the idea that photographs are not 'true' or contain no 'truth' is a fanciful invention of the academic art world - a dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin academic theory. A theory that actually seems designed to strip photography of one of its unique media-specific characteristics - its ability to create not only an 'accurate' description of the real world but also a snapshot of the 'truth' about it as well.

Before I go into this idea further, I would really like to hear some opinions on the subject for you. Please let me know some of your thoughts on the matter. If you don't have any, think about it and get some.

FYI - the price of this Burtynsky triptych is $57,000. 3 days after the shows opening, 2 had been sold (along with about 15 other individual prints - of about the same size as one of those pictured here - at $23,000 per). Ain't no starvin' artist here.

Reader Comments (4)

Adding words to a photograph (see urban ku # 133 ~ 'truth') can certainly clarify any statement the photographer may be making. In my view, that doesn't make it more than the photographer's belief, but it will affect how many people are inclined to agree, and thus the "consensus truth," if that notion makes sense. I automatically insert a mental "according to X" in any claims about "the truth," and I think most people expect that.

I think the Avedon quote is pointing out the difference between accuracy, which relates to physical facts, and truth, which is about meaning and hence is in the mind. The accuracy of photography can be a powerful persuader of the mind, but it's not enough to fix this truth of meaning. In my opinion.

November 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Durbin

Rather than use the word Truth, I would prefer to use the word Description. Any number of people will describe a shared event differently. Likewise with photography, as any number of photographers will photograph the same circumstances differently. We each bring ourselves into the equation. And isn't Truth subjective anyway?

November 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChuck

Oh, how I hate to say this, but.....define your terms. Ain't that just the quintessential "Philosophy 101" statement? In this case, however, it's necessary. And, in answering it, the futility of the original question becomes obvious.

How many of Ansel Adam's photographs are unmanipulated? "None" would be the most accurate answer. So, as far as contrast goes, they're false. Half Dome exists, but it's never looked the way it does in an Adams photograph. It is, I imagine, pretty safe to say that the same applies to every photograph ever printed. Contrast, colour saturation....all altered. So, not "true"?

But, maybe that's a trivial "untruth". Surely the truth/falsehood of what's actually in the photograph is what counts. Well....

The Big Question in your original post seems to be photography's ..."ability to create not only an 'accurate' description of the real world but also a snapshot of the 'truth' about it as well."

Jeff Wall's photographs are "true" in the sense that, yep, he accurately (very) photographed something in the real world. He photographed actual events. But, he truthfully photographed a staged event. The models were really there, really doing what Wall shows them doing, but what they were really doing was acting. So, where does the "truth" lie (so to speak) in these photos? Real photos of real actors really pretending to do something that they really weren't. Except that they were. But not really.

Like I said, define your terms.

November 15, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterstephen connor

This post provoked me to think quite hard about the subject. It's tricky to put ones hands on concisely.
I think I agree: photography can contain truth (but not necessarily) and can also be accurate. Sometimes both.
Interesting to read Stephen Connor's comment about Jeff Wall's photographs. I tend to think exactly the opposite: they are accurate depictions of what was in front of the camera but I find they contain little truth.
Truth is the stength of the medium, the ability to depict what was there and how it was, the reality of a place or event. Accuracy is a bit trickier in this context - for sure there is not a single B&W photo that is accurate (the world is in colour except to monochromats).
I kept coming back to something I learnt in a management accountancy lecture (of all things). There it was stated that accounts are declared true and fair, not accurate. I think you could easily substitute photograph for account here.

November 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Doonan

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