“The impulse to define, perfect, or heighten reality is manifest in a roster of iconic photographs that have come to reside in the world as “truth.”


After writing his book “Photography After Frank”, Philip Gefter publishes his “Essay: Icons as Fact, Fiction and Metaphor” with the soul purpose of discussing iconic photographs that have caused controversial discourse between its viewers. Gefter uses these images to explain the juxtaposition between an authentic moment and a photograph displaying this said moment. He believes that a photograph has the ability to give account to a specific point in time without the viewer actually having been there. He brings forth moving and extremely exemplary photographs such as Civil War shots by Mathew Brady and Rosa Parks, seated on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. He then tests the idea of gradient truths and questions the accuracy of these pictures. Just because it is reflecting a definitive image, does that mean it guarantees legitimacy? 

“The impulse to define, perfect, or heighten reality is manifest in a roster of iconic photographs that have come to reside in the world as “truth.”

Famously known for his Civil War photographs, Mathew Brady has gone down in history as the photojournalist who shot influential battles such as Gettysburg and the First Battle of Bull Run. He gathered a team of photographers including Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’sullivan to join him on this creative conquest, but in turn ended up being Brady’s pawns. From the mere idea of Brady’s displeasure with any sight of a dead body, we can believe that these photos were taken by his employees. Gardner and O’sullivan were both known for purposefully moving fallen soldiers to accommodate to their composition. Because we know of other bodies being moved, the question lingers on if other, even all, of Brady’s photos were staged. Even with this, were aware that the battles did take place, and that the Civil War was very much a real event where many lost their lives. Gefter still poses the question “how much of the subject matter does the photographer have to change before fact becomes fiction, or a photograph becomes metaphor?”. 

Gefter goes on to discuss an extremely important period of time where the civil rights movement was in full swing and Miss. Rosa Parks had become a famous face to the cause. The moment of Parks refusing to remove herself from a bus seat for a young white gentleman has become a descriptive moment for desegregation laws. Most believed that this picture depicted that very moment when in fact it was taken nearly a year after the actual occurrence. Does the staged bus scene take away from the importance this picture holds within society? 


These pictures are an example of time where traditional film had to be exposed, developed and transferred in order to be indulged. Photographers had a set amount of frames he or she could use before needing to wind the film and change the roll. In the darkroom a photographer could make edits to the film but it required a lot of time and skill. With digital photography the amount of frames is nearly endless, and editing photos is as easy as removing a memory card and plugging it into a computer. Gefter implies with these images that even from the time period they exist within, and the type of camera used, the image can still be tampered with. Wether it’s moving a body for composition or a completely staged event, the photos themselves would still be considered edited, would they not? 




Mathew Brady information : https://www.civilwar.org/learn/biographies/mathew-brady

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