Truth vs. accuracy in photographs

Richard Avedon once said: “There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” In this Age of Fungible Pixels, when not every publication, political campaign, or advocacy organization follows the Times policy prohibiting manipulation of news photographs, I’m not even sure about the accuracy part. But the untruth—or, at least, imperfect truth—of any single photograph is inescapable. Some readers object to the way a picture is cropped, arguing that evidence changing its meaning has been sliced out of the frame. But meaning is determined long before that. A photographer points the camera here , then turns three inches to the left and snaps again: different picture, maybe a different reality. A photo editor selects from the images the photographer submits (should the subject be smiling? Frowning? Animated? Distracted?). The designer wants it large (major impact) or small (lesser impact). The editor picks it for Page 1 (important) or not (not). By the time a reader sees a picture, it has been repeatedly massaged by judgment. But it’s necessarily presented as fact.  

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