Photography threatens fantasy – or does it?

With her American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Taryn Simon goes on the hunt for America’s dirty secrets.

Gaining entrance to places as diverse as a white tiger breeding facility, the JFK Airport quarantine area and virus-research labs, Simon shows the things that are integral to America’s foundation, mythology and daily functioning, but remain inaccessible or unknown to a public audience.

Meanwhile, in her earlier book The Innocents, she shot portraits of more than 80 wrongly accused death-row inmates who were exonerated by DNA testing, and investigated photography’s role in that process.

At issue here was the question of photography’s function as a credible eyewitness and arbiter of justice.

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Bearing witness – James Nachtwey’s searing images of war

Photojournalist James Nachtwey is considered by many to be the greatest war photographer of recent decades. He has covered conflicts and major social issues in more than 30 countries.

Nachtwey has been a contract photographer with Time since 1984. However, when certain stories he wanted to cover – such as Romanian orphanages and famine in Somalia – garnered no interest from magazines, he self-financed trips there.

He is known for getting up close to his subjects, or as he says, “in the same intimate space that the subjects inhabit,” and he passes that sense of closeness on to the viewer.

In putting himself in the middle of conflict, his intention is to record the truth, to document the struggles of humanity, and with this, to wake people up and stir them to action.

As Nachtwey says:

[Photography] puts a human face on issues which, from afar, can appear abstract or ideological or monumental in their global impact.

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Like to learn more about Nachtwey’s work? Check out the following links…

Do photographs tell the truth?

We’re photographers. We know images aren’t real. Don’t we?

I mean, we know the image at right by Jerry Uelsmann (Untitled, 1991) doesn’t capture “the real”… logic tells us such a bizarre and implausible juxtaposition of object and situation must be a construction, right?

But what about “straight” images? Do they capture the real?

All images, after all, are constructions resulting from a range of authorial choices – decisions about camera angle, framing, cropping, focus, film stock, lighting, background, proximity, facial expressions and clothing, for example, all add to the meaning of an image.

Yet, despite their lack of objectivity, photographs are seen to have a special connection with the real, and are the standard against which the realism of all other images is measured.

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