Photography and Belief (1991) by David Lee Strauss
In David Levi Strauss’ essay, Photography and Belief, Strauss looks at how photography is facing new challenges as a result of new digital imaging technology and how this technology is throwing into question the future integrity of photography. Photography as mechanical reproduction almost immediately altered the aura of the work of art, and over the next 150 years photography acquired its own aura – the aura of believability….Now the technology of seeing is changing again, with rapid advances in electronic imaging technologies that allow one to alter or “make up” photographs at will, and some say these new technologies are causing a tremendous crisis of believability in photography. (p,71, Strauss, 2005).
Strauss writes that: belief derives from the Anglo-Saxon word geliefan, means “to hold dear” The Sanskrit root for this word, Lubh, means “to desire, love.” Belief involves the “assent of the mind to a statement, or to the truth of a fact beyond observation, on the testimony of another, or to a fact or truth on the evidence of conciousness” (Oxford English Dictionary). In relation to photography, this assent is influenced, but not exhausted, by the photograph’s relation to “objective reality.” It is also influenced and determined by its place in the complex web of subjectivities that determines how we negotiate the world. (p,73, Strauss, 2005).
Strauss suggests that the relationship between photographs and belief can become especially complicated when connected with identity. Sometimes, the photograph doesn’t need to prove anything on its own; it corroborates and confirms what we already know. (p,74, Strauss, 2005). He continues: Many of us possess certain photographs the accretion believability over time. These may be photographs of family members or loved ones, autobiographical images, or other photographs that come to act as talismans, triggering certain emotions or states and warding off others. The relation of these photographs to belief is often not bound by their objective veracity. (p,74, Strauss, 2005).
Strauss sites two examples how photographs in relation identity can be used falsely, the first was how a friend had used a found picture of a woman and carried it around with him telling people that the picture was of his mother. Strauss had a similar experience when finding a photo of a boy that resembled an image that Strauss had once seen of his father as a child, he had kept it and began to imagine that it was a picture of his brother who had died before he was born. People use photographs to construct identities, investing them with “believability.” Of course, advertisers and news-picture editors do the same thing, mimicking the private use of photographs in order to manufacture desire for products and to manufacture public consent. This has caused a great deal of confusion,The first question must always be: Who is using this photograph, and to what end? (p,74, Strauss, 2005).