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Disbelieve everything

May 3, 2015

My wife hates watching films with me as I have a tendency to deconstruct them – a habit from my screenwriting days.

Now I do it with photographs.

For instance, I’ve always greatly admired André Kertész’s photograph Meudon taken in the eponymous Parisian suburb in 1928.

meudon

Kertész had made at least one earlier visit to Meudon to photograph the viaduct, so he had obviously had this view in mind and waited for a train to pass and for people to appear in the street. Without these figures the scene would look rather empty.

What really makes the picture is the man in the foreground carrying what appears to be a picture or mirror wrapped in newspaper.

I often imagined what other figures must have appeared and been rejected by Kertész, and what great luck it was that this man appeared.

Only I later read that Kertész’s friend, the artist Willi Baumeister was living in Meudon at the time… and the man in the photo bears a striking resemblance to him.

Here is a self-portrait from the ‘20s.

self-portrait-1910

How does that make me feel about the photo? To paraphrase Morrissey: I still love it – only slightly, slightly less than I used to.

And now I am more cynical. My wife recently showed me a photo in the newspaper by wildlife photographer Tom Samuelson.

gray-owl-mouse_65519_990x742

I agreed the photo was amazing, but then I thought about the mechanics of how it was taken.

How likely is it that the photographer happened to be just in the right place at that very moment? In sub zero temperatures?

And why was the mouse out on that open expanse of ice? Knowing that owls were about? Not scavenging for food, for sure.

I think Mr Samuelson had paid a prior visit to the pet shop.

But wouldn’t the mouse scamper off? Not if it was drugged.

As I reasoned this out loud, my wife snatched the paper away and told me that was the last time she would look out for nice photos to bring home for me.

Does it really matter if a photographer gives reality a helping hand? After all isn’t it the impact of the final image that counts, rather than how it was produced?

My tuppenceworth is that in the age of Photoshop in particular authenticity is in danger of being lost. And capturing a moment of reality is surely one of photography’s unique strengths.

I want to see photos that a photographer takes, not makes.

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