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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Believing Is Seeing

In Believing Is Seeing Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris turns his eye to the nature of truth in photography. In his inimitable style, Morris untangles the mysteries behind an eclectic range of documentary photographs, from the ambrotype of three children found clasped in the hands of an unknown soldier at Gettysburg to the indelible portraits of the WPA photography project. Each essay in the book presents the reader with a conundrum and investigates the relationship between photographs and the real world they supposedly record.

During the Crimean War, Roger Fenton took two nearly identical photographs of the Valley of the Shadow of Death-one of a road covered with cannonballs, the other of the same road without cannonballs. Susan Sontag later claimed that Fenton posed the first photograph, prompting Morris to return to Crimea to investigate. Can we recover the truth behind Fenton’s intentions in a photograph taken 150 years ago?

In the midst of the Great Depression and one of the worst droughts on record, FDR’s Farm Service Administration sent several photographers, including Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans, to document rural poverty. When Rothstein was discovered to have moved the cow skull in his now-iconic photograph, fiscal conservatives-furious over taxpayer money funding an artistic project-claimed the photographs were liberal propaganda. What is the difference between journalistic evidence, fine art, and staged propaganda?

During the Israeli-Lebanese war in 2006, no fewer than four different photojournalists took photographs in Beirut of toys lying in the rubble of bombings, provoking accusations of posing and anti-Israeli bias at the news organizations. Why were there so many similar photographs? And were the accusers objecting to the photos themselves or to the conclusions readers drew from them?

My Review:

For most people who look at articles in the newspapers, magazines or even books, when a picture accompanies them we are often looking at that picture and forming an opinion. Hand in hand with whatever the article states, we may buy into the story because what is being written about and what the picture show make a match in our brain. However what Errol Morris does in the book, Believing Is Seeing, is show a picture with the proposed article and how at times in history, they have been made to appear as though they were real, when in fact they were an image created to tie into the story.

These are created to help influence what we read and what we see, so that the audience is more prone to believe it based not just on what they read but also what they see, even though at times the images are created and not really what is happening.

Errol Morris uses many such examples of photos with one being a cow skull show over a dry and cracked land. In the article that accompanied the picture, the reader was made to believe that this photo was taken to show what was happening in the Dust Bowl era in order to get people to buy into Franklin Roosevelt's programs to aid the farmers even though the photo was staged.

I received this book compliments of TLC Book Tours for my honest review and found the book an interesting read. Its hard to imagine that this type of marketing happens to use photos to pull at the emotional heart strings of people, but if it works, they will use it. Many such examples are shown through the book along with commentaries explaining how it was used. This is a great book for anyone looking into marketing or photo journalism or just photography in general to see how pictures invoke emotions in all of us. I rate this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars.

For more information on this book, the author and where to pick up a copy of this book, click on the links below:

Believing Is Seeing by Errol Morris

You can also visit Errol Morris on his website by clicking here.


  1. I am also on the tour and I'm glad that you enjoyed it as well

  2. Yes, you're right - if it works, they'll do it. Sounds like a fascinating look at photography and marketing!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  3. I am always loving great read and with beautiful and intriguing photography too! Kat you are the best!


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