I just came across “Liar, Liar Pants on Fire”, the first of a number of blog posts by Errol Morris for the New York Times. Apparently he will be blogging a series of articles, and his initial post deals with photography’s relationship to truth. Here is a brief excerpt:
It is also interesting how a photograph quickly changes when we learn more about what it depicts, when we provide a context, when we become familiar with an underlying story. And when we make claims about the photograph using language. For truth, properly considered, is about the relationship between language and the world, not about photographs and the world.
The idea that photographs hand us an objective piece of reality, that they by themselves provide us with the truth, is an idea that has been with us since the beginnings of photography. But photographs are neither true nor false in and of themselves. They are only true or false with respect to statements that we make about them or the questions that we might ask of them.
It is a really provocative and thoughtful post on the objective nature of photography that immediately inspired some thoughts of my own in regards to what seems to be a separating out and privileging of the relationship between “language and the world” over and above “photographs and the world.” It is not entirely clear to me why he makes such a distinction. I understand the idea that statements (or captions as he frames them here) open up a space where we can assert something is true or not linguistically. But aren’t textual statements, stripped of their context just as the example of the Lusitania he offers, neither true or false in and of themselves? I think images are as integral a part of the relationship between language and the world as texts are, rather than simply playing a supporting role as he seems to be suggesting here. Thinking through an image’s composition, framing, juxtaposition, and/or its relationship to a syntactical sequence of other images offers a linguistic system full of statements that could be construed or imagined as true or false, not unlike a caption or a line of text within a larger and richer context.
That said, how cool is it that Errol Morris is blogging all of this and that anyone can easily comment on or trackback to his thoughts and engage him in such a conversation, whether or not he ever gets around to reading it. Now, of course he is blogging under the auspices of the New York Times which makes this blog a bit more official and high-profile, possibly precluding a more intimate and pointed discussion through comments and trackkbacks. Yet, at the same time we have to recognize that he’s possibly one of the most important documentary filmmakers working today, and it remains important that a number of people can not only freely access his ideas immediately but also engage in distributed conversations with several folks around some of the concepts raised here -many of which are worthy of a more extended and detailed discussion. I, for one, know that Gardner Campbell is currently working through a number of them with his students, how cool for them to have the access to such a director, writer, and thinker like Morris in relative real time.I guess when someone has a blog, they just seem realer to me, so this may very well be one of the heights of Real School!