That it can illustrate an objective truth, and bear witness to an event. You can’t look at a photograph and know what’s going on. It’s just one person’s point of view.

-Photographer and activist Dona Ann McAdams


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  1. Well, a picture of an African starving is what it is—a child dying of malnutrition.

  2. That photographers are cool…

    And I could not agree more that a photograph is not truth. It is one piece of the puzzle. A hand crafted image by one person is inherently subjective. it does not allow you to see the whole story.

  3. its kind of an old story just worded in a new and unoriginally boring way. I’m glad that journalist and activist photographer meanwhile have got the memo too!

    When and with what medium do you ever know whats going on?
    Photography is as good and as bad as any other type of medium, statement, evidence, artifact in telling truth or lies. My 90 year old grandmother and 10 year old son know this. Actually THAT is the stereotype NOT that photography illustrates an objektive truth.

  4. An image is just a piece of the visual puzzle. One piece may show a man smiling happily. If you add the adjoining piece, it may show a cow… being sodomized by the smiling man. You see what the photographer wants you to see.


  5. I think that all of the above have hit on parts of truth about photography. As with any medium, it is the creators story. The importance is not whether fact(truth) or fiction(lie) is perpetuated, what is the story, the complete story.

    To me most photography contains a certain degree of art, in that art is a motivation or question that is really being perpetuated,will you become motivated to discover, ask, becaome a part of, experience, seek, and find the remainder of the story or puzzle how ever you want say it.

    If we always took what we read, see in a news report, photos or other medium for it’s face value, as pure truth then the world would be in extreme trouble. Albeit there are those that do and look now at …….uh oh the sky is falling gotta go….

  6. I always hear people use this idea of the inherent subjectivity to justify digital manipulations, and it doesn’t fit. While a photograph is potentially distortable by the viewpoint of the photographer or the variables inherent to the medium (tonality, focus, etc), this does not make it “ok” to overtly change the content of a photo. That crosses the line into lying, rather than commenting or even obscuring.

    • I should add that I know the digital manipulation is not what is being discussed here, but it is a slippery slope.

      • @Christopher Bush,

        Well then lets clarify it, you are talking about photojournalism, right? Not “all” photography?

        • @Allen Lee Taylor,

          I don’t know. I have no interest in looking at any photo that has undergone content manipulation, regardless of genre or purpose. But that’s me.

          • @Christopher Bush, all photos undergo content manipulation. From the perspective, focus point, framing and cropping, editing (choosing which picture in a series to show), captions, how they are laid out in a magazine or gallery showing or webpage.

            It’s all manipulation chosen by the photographer and editor and galleryist to present a particular viewpoint or story. Change some details, you’ve changed the story.

            • @David,

              I’m not referring to these external and/or inherently variable aspects of a photo. They do not affect content. I’m talking about changing the subject through overt manipulation. For example, photoshopping a new background or cloning out a birthmark are not photographic variables – they belong to the subject. That’s a far cry from cropping or selective focus. I think there is clearly a line.

              • Perhaps we’re trying to distinguish between manipulation and interpretation. Choice of equipment, camera settings, composition, even when we choose to press the button, are matters of interpretation, in my opinion. We make those choices to better express our personal vision.

                Manipulation, on the other hand, can happen at two levels. You can manipulate the situation, essentially becoming a director. Or you can change what you actually saw after the initial exposure was made.

                Every photograph is essentially an interpretation, but not every photograph is a manipulation. Semantics, perhaps, but I think it’s important to make a distinction for our intended audiences.

                • @Scott Bryant,

                  Well said. You are far more eloquent than me.

  7. Well, those who work in the field of photojournalism, or all journalism for that matter, rarely use “objectivity” as a benchmark anymore. To connect with audiences, you have to establish relevancy. Analysis and interpretation are inherently part of journalism.

    W. Eugene Smith once said “Let truth be the prejudice,” but we have come to realize that “truth” is an even worse benchmark. Whose truth? Truth is even more subjective, as there as as many interpretations of Truth as there are people in the world.

    Journalism ethics are more commonly framed with the terms “fairness” and “accuracy” these days. Are photographs fair representations of what’s depicted, and is the context in which they are made established? And are photographs an accurate representation of what the photographer saw him or herself?

    Photojournalism will remain relevant only as long as its practitioners abide by these concepts. Without credibility, there is no audience.

  8. There is no such thing as an objective photograph, with the possible exception of those not taken by humans.

    Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive. When reading news, you take the content, consider the topic and the source, then seek the truth therein. Relying on a photo and a caption to tell any kind of full story, is like asking to be manipulated. There is, of course, a big difference between an element of subjectivity and being downright misleading, but that’s another discussion.

    No. The biggest photographic stereotype is the vest. The photographer’s vest. Are you serious? That just needs to go.

  9. If human eyes can perceive an objective truth, then it can be photographed. Simple as that.

    As the poster noted above, a photograph of a starving child can present the objective truth that the child is starving. The photograph doesn’t answer questions about why the child is starving, who (if anyone) is at fault, what should be done, etc.

    To the poster above which said that the photo of the smiling man may not depict the unfortunate cow – so what? Who says it does. It shows a picture of a smiling man and the objective truth that conveys is that he is happy or is deriving pleasure. If you assume “This man is smiling because he is engaging in a wholesome activity” then the mistake is your assumptions, not the photograph.

    • @tde4, Good point.

  10. the biggest stereotype about photography is a website called

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