("photography always lies")

Quote Originally Posted by Maris View Post
This class of argument comes up every time there is a discussion involving the putative relationship between a photograph and its subject matter. And the argument is always wrong.

Going back to philosophy 101 the concept of truth and lies only applies to propositions; formal statements about the nature of things. A proposition that on investigation turns out not to be the case is untrue, a lie in other words. So the question devolves into: What formal statement does photography offer about its relationship to subject matter? Interestingly, those who insist that the camera lies or photography lies never offer (never think?) that there is a proposition to state and then to test.
I think this analysis is a red herring except in explicitly documentary photography like news illustrations (where something close to a formal proposition is fairly obvious, like Ken's example of the Lincoln conspirators above). The kind of "truth" that people associate with any art, not just photography, isn't very compatible with the propositional-logic sense of the word, IMHO. That makes for a richer sense of art than formal logic can offer, but it also makes it pretty hard to settle internet arguments with a decisive proof of correctness...

But that aside, surely everyone realizes (if they think about it) that analog processes are also full of stages in which information is lost or distorted, and that the feeling that a photo is somehow an accurate representation of "what was really there" or "what you would have seen" is an illusion that skips over a whole lot of mental modelling that we do unconsciously. There's nothing wrong with that unconscious elision, but it's easy to confuse "I don't notice this class of inaccuracies" with "This class of inaccuracies is not important" (or even "...does not exist").

There is, pretty obviously, no optical system that doesn't lose *some* information, including your eye---even before anything takes place that could be described as a capture, the in-camera projected image is already "degraded" from the pool of available photons that arrived at the lens. Practically speaking, nobody really thinks the degree of loss in a reasonably modern camera is important---we accept photographs as legal evidence of fact without having courtroom arguments over the number of air-to-glass surfaces in the lens used---but at some point, people start saying "I dunno, it just doesn't *feel* *real* *enough*", and shockingly enough that point is differently defined for different people in different contexts. I'm not sure why the first digital processing stage is such a popular critical point, but it sure is one.

-NT