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The Staged Photograph

  • Tutorials
  • 29/04/18

What can a photograph tell us, and does it bring us closer to the truth? This is a question that photojournalists have been asking themselves for many years. Does a photograph provide reliable evidence of a real-life event for people that were not present or the inherent limits of the medium make it an unreliable source of truth?

We have to remember that a photographer can only capture what happens when the shutter button is pressed. What happens before and after this is hidden from the viewer.

Many filmmakers and photographers have acknowledged this issue, and have used their work to reflect on the limits of a captured image, be it moving or still. A good example is Michelangelo Antonioni with his film Blow Up.  In this film, we see a fashion photographer wrestling with the limits of a still image, when trying to solve a murder that took place right in front of him.

Another example is Sara Naomi Lewkowicz. A visual journalist whose work deals with contemporary issues and has won many prizes, including the L’iris d’Or. The images that won her the prize, revolved around domestic abuse in a family, which means that she was present during the attacks. You could ask yourself what impact did it have on the perpetrator and victims the fact that she was present, and how accurate is the story she is telling if she was only there for a short period of time. Where is the line between pure documentation and deliberate narrative?

We probably could all recognise the romantic Parisian image of the beautiful couple kissing by Robert Doisneau (Kiss at the Hotel de Ville 1950) but the truth is, that this was staged.  He hired these two perfect models when he was on an assignment for Life magazine for a story of romance in Paris.  Does it change how you feel about the image? What about Philip Lorca Di Corcia’s series ‘Hustlers’ where he paid Prostitutes to pose for him but in the caption added the amount he paid them? What do you think about it?

If you find this interesting, look at Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman and Duane Michals to name a few.

We have all seen those badly edited images with an extra body piece in contemporary fashion magazines, and we have heard many times actresses complain that photographers (and magazines ) have airbrushed them to oblivion.  If we look back to darkroom times, images also were altered or manipulated –so this is not new with the construct of Photoshop.

How do we feel as a photographer, and how can this influence our work?

If you would like to discuss these topics and more check out our Street and Documentary Course.