Posted by: siobhananderson | October 18, 2010

Exposing and Depicting Truth: from Fenian Mug Shots to Abu Ghraib

After our class discussion on Wednesday I continued to think about the contrast in prison photos between what we read and saw in the article Fenians in the Frame and Sontag’s piece concerning the modern role of photography in capturing prisoners of war and the violence of torture.

When thinking about these two pieces I tried to focus on the way in which these differing photos sought to, in some way, inform the audience of truth. Historically many careers, friendships and romantic relationships have been destroyed by the simple presence of one incriminating photo, one violent or sexual image. This leads me to wonder about the kinds of ways photos seek to express or claim truth. It seems as if one can divide photos into two distinct categories: ones that depict truth and ones that expose truth.

For example, the photos (mug shots) of the detained Irish rebels would be an example of truth depiction. These photos seek to capture the very details and distinguishing features of the face and body to share them with an audience already anticipating that they are looking upon the faces of criminals. Truth isto be simply depicted or shown here, there are no revelations or curtains pulled back, the image stands on it’s own as historical and physical proof of the fact that these Irish men were once detained.

In contrast, it seems as if the modern photos shown in the Sontag article are not as subtle in expressing or showing truth. These photos are not merely a depiction of actual events, they are abruptly and radically exposing truth, there is action, a pulling away any sort of mask or curtain that shrouds what people believe to be going on in the Abu Ghraib prison. There is an action implied when this photo is taken, an action of stripping away layers to get at the core of what is really going on, the violence and indignities of war, the truth.

This is so very different from the kind of truth-telling that Fenian mug shots represent and I hope to continue to explore more ways in which photography relates directly to what we as an audience perceive as truth.


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