ERROL MORRIS: But when we see something suspicious, aren’t we asking also asking the questions: What are they up to? Why are they doing this? Why are there three missiles in one photograph and four in another? What is going on here? What were they thinking? The simple answer: If my desire is to present a bellicose posture to the West, fine, clone a couple of those missiles. We know it’s a fake. But what are we supposed to infer from the photograph? Is it that these Iranians are so unscrupulous they will stop at nothing?
Errol Morris can never escape the intentions of photography. Even when he tries to escape it, as in his series on the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the circle keeps coming around: what are the intentions of Roger Fenton? Was he trying to fake the image or was he trying to fake the other image? All that Morris wants to know is: which picture came first? And the various experts he consults say: “Well, it depends on what his intentions were.” Even the guy who eventually figured it out resorted to it (after he had figured it out).
And so the fourth essay was purely, entirely questioning intentions. Why would the Iranians release two pictures, one photoshopped? Why were there two pictures? Why did Americans react to it the way they did? Was that intentional on the part of the Iranians?
He brings up John Heartfield, a photographer who fled from Germany to Czechoslovakia to England. He shows a few photographs of Heartfield’s, images which were obviously changed or posed, but not faked. The difference, he suggests, is that Heartfield meant to create art in order to protest the German movements.
Where is the line from art to fakery? In my conversations with a few coworkers at the photo studio where I work, we have a few suggestions. Is it when we pose our subjects, ask them to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do? Is it that the subjects pay for the photos? Is it when we sit in the back and manipulate the photos, erasing acne, muting and enhancing colors, zooming in and out of the subjects to make them more or less dominant in the photo?
Perhaps photos are more “fake” when we change them to be something other than what they actually were when the photos were taken. Take the Iranian photo — there is a theory that one simply failed to go off when the others did. There were four missiles altogether. Is it supposed to be a picture of Iranian missiles, or Iranian missiles launching? If just Iranian missiles, then the picture is accurate — four missiles, four launches. If Iranian missiles launching, then it is inaccurate, and the photograph fake.
Or Fenton’s photograph — they mention towards the end that Fenton may have moved the cannonballs onto the road not to make it seem like he was in more danger, or to add drama to the piece, but simply to tell a more accurate picture, one of the battleground the way he saw it (with cannonballs every whichway) during battle.
Or the photographs at my photo studio. Deleting a teenager’s acne makes the scene less like how it actually was — or perhaps more like what his parents see when they look at his face. Zooming in to the little girl’s face to better emphasize her bright eyes. She always had those bright eyes, now we can see them.