Link to the 2016 January Popular Photography Article (editied for space)

The Implicit Lie

According to Webster the word implicit (at least one of the definitions) means:

a :  capable of being understood from something else though unexpressed :  implied <an implicit assumption>

Yesterday while having a conversation with another photographer, concerning the Truth in Photography, he suggested that a photographer has no responsibility to disclose if the ‘art’ they are presenting to the general public is representative of the reality of the scene as he saw it or if it has been altered (significantly or minimally) making it appear ‘realistic’ though not, even though the unsuspecting viewer most likely will perceive it as ‘real’.

As you might imagine a rather lengthy discussion ensued.

Many images coming forward today are highly manipulated, to the point of just being believable.  While others are so over the top, Avatarish, one wonders how anyone could believe the reality of them.  However the reality of these images is that they are not representative of the scene that was before the ‘artist’ at the time the shutter was snapped.

The idea he tried to impart is that ‘it is just art’ and being ‘creative’ is what the art form (photography) is all about.  Mind you, the discussion was centered in landscape/wilderness based image creation.  Which by its very nature (pune intended) is representative not creative.  The creative part in fantastic landscapes should come from exquisite composition, which today is also being 'created' by 'artists'.  Sadly.

The real question here is - IF the photographer alters an image from reality do they have an explicit responsibility to inform the viewer?  The fellow I was speaking with obviously does not believe they do.  I however, do not share his viewpoint and here’s why.

For me silence, from the photographer, is an explicit non-verbal communication to the viewer that what they are looking at is real.  After all, why would the ‘artist’ go to such great lengths to make it look real, plausible, or believable?  If this is so, then the converse must also be true: that the viewer implicitly believes that what they are looking at is real – which is of course not the case.  So who has the responsibility of disclosing the truth here?  Is it the unknowing viewer or the photographer who knows the truth but chooses to remain silent on the matter?

This is of course the age-old question in debate here.  To fully disclose the truth, or not.  I personally have always adhered to this definition of a lie:  A lie is any communication given from one to another with the intent to deceive.  In this definition the word ‘communication’ could be either verbal or non-verbal, implicit or explicit.

By creating an image - which skirts reality when it isn’t - without disclosure, is paramount to deception.  Otherwise, again, why would the ‘artist’ seek to make the image look ‘real’, or portray it as such?

Certainly we all believe that if, in this example, the photographer were to tell the viewer that the image is ‘reality’ but it isn’t, the photographer would definitely be lying to the viewer.  And no one likes being lied too.  Do they?

Many of today’s up and coming photographer/artists like to use Ansel Adams quote (after all who better?) to qualify their actions: The negative is the equivalent of the composer's score, and the print the performance.”   Now remember, Ansel was a photographer of Nature, what we would today call a “landscape” photographer.  So we can infer that his statements are somewhat modeled around this specific genre of photography.  What these ‘artists’ neglect to realize, or disclose when making such statements in public, is that when Ansel made this statement he was of course referring to black and white image creation, which is a highly interpretive form in photography by its very nature.  Yet when we look an any of Ansel’s works we do not find images that look unnatural.  In fact we find images that very much do look natural within their context – either black and white or in the limited amount of color photography that he created before his passing.

These same up and comers either ignore or are unaware of Ansel’s other famous quote: “Not everyone trusts paintings but people believe photographs.”  Because people inherently believe nature/landscape images are real, the visual non-verbal communication of such an image is therefore perceived as being a truthful representation of nature. 

Therefore when the 'art' is visually represented as reality but not disclosed, then the viewer is, in a way, under assault.  What’s worse is that they don’t even know it.  I do not see how this could ever be a good policy to employ, nor do I believe that this is good for the artform we all love so much.  Perhaps it's time we become explicit in our implicity.

My goal has always been to get back to what I saw, not what I 'wanted' to see.  How I get there I don't care, but I want to be able to stand in front of anyone and be able to explicity say "That is what I saw." and not be lying about it.  You see, I personally believe that there is an up and a down escalator waiting for me when I pass on and I would really like to be on the up escalator.

I realize that there is nothing that I personally can do to control what is happening.  I'm not sure I would even if I could because I strongly believe in a persons free agency to choose for themselves between right and wrong.  However, I felt I needed to state my position on this matter.  Hopefully you can respect my right to free agency, as I do yours.


One final thought - a quote by famous French art critic Andre Gide:

"Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better."