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An Exploration of Truth, Part 7

We further justify our expectations because of the original aura that surrounded photography’s initial beginnings. This was a technology unlike anything that had been witnessed before and its unique ability to capture the world with such incredible realism created a belief in the photograph’s ability to speak truth. A faith was thus invested in this medium that had never been given to any other medium. When a painter paints a portrait of a person we say that he has captured the ‘likeness’ of that person but with a photograph, we see the image in the photograph as the person.

As Hubert Damisch says in his essay, “Five Notes for a Phenomenology Of the Photographic Image,”

Theoretically speaking, photography is nothing other

than a process of recording, a technique of inscribing,

in an emulsion of silver salts, a stable image generated

by a ray of light. [1]

The words Damisch uses to describe the action of photography are ‘recording’ and ‘inscribing’. These words bring with them a connotation of verity. There’s a weight behind them that coupled with how the photograph has been used continues the perception of truthfulness.

Photographs are a part of our everyday existence. Their use spans many modes of communication including journalistic and documentary mediums as well as evidence within the judicial system. Put alongside a newspaper article or commissioned as a documentary project a photograph substantiates the information we are being provided. Investigators use images to corroborate stories or provide data in judicial proceedings. Sontag writes,

Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear

about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown

a photograph of it. [2]

We take photographs provided to us in these manners at face-value. “It is evidence therefore it must be true.”


[1] Damisch, Hubert. “Five Notes for a Phenomenology Of the Photographic Image” Classic Essays on Photography. Ed. Alan Trachtenberg. New Haven: Leete’s Island Books, 1980.

[2] Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York: Picador, 1977.


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