Believing Is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography)Book |
Musings on photography and the nature of knowledge.
Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris begins his book Believing Is Seeing (which originated as a serial in The New York Times) with a provocative suggestion: "The essays in this book should be seen as a collection of mystery stories." With this, he invites his readers to consider photographs much like pieces of evidence to be investigated for the information they might provide about who took them, their historical context, or even knowledge itself. Morris analyzes an array of documentary-style photographs, such as "The Valley of the Shadow of Death" by Roger Fenton or the infamous images from Abu Ghraib, with the approach of a detective. In his treatment of "The Valley of the Shadow of Death," a seminal war photograph of a road taken during the Crimean War, Morris seeks an answer to the question of whether or not Fenton placed cannonballs in the shot. Was Fenton a brave photo documentarian or did he manipulate his subject to appear more courageous? Is the photo a visual record of history or a staged piece of art? Morris would make any research librarian proud. Not only does he trace the roots of his sources, he conducts interviews with experts, and even goes to Crimea for answers. Yet despite this detective work, Morris' book is as much about what we cannot know as what we can. In this sense, one might even view the project as Morris' postmodern love song to epistemology. Believing Is Seeing is a dynamic book, combining illustrations, photographs, maps, interviews, and analysis to ask big questions about how we know what we see is real, what the responsibilities are of the documentary photographer to truth, and whether believing is, in fact, seeing.