Observer Review: Underexposed Edited By Colin Jacobson Essay, Research Paper
Seeing isn’t always believingUnderexposededited by Colin JacobsonVision On ?35, pp247The great lie is that pictures never lie. History can be reconstructed visually in any manner of ways. Scissors, retouching ink and now Photoshop, and similar programs, can allow the cynical to recreate events in the crudest ways. Photographers can be complicit by ignoring some images that do not fit their agenda while focusing on others. Photographers can be manipulated too by governments and organisations that show them only what they want them to see.So it was, as Harold Evans reminds us in one of the accompanying essays in Colin Jacobson’s Underexposed: ‘Pictures Can Lie and Liars Can Use Pictures’, that supporters of Joe McCarthy used careful scissorwork to kill the reselection prospects of one of his earliest critics – Senator Tydings – appearing to make him more friendly with the leader of the American Communist Party than he was.But it has not only been politicians and governments that have edited reality. The celebrated American photographer Weegee was commissioned in the 1940s by publicists for Coney Island, New York’s favourite seaside location, and took a picture of a crowded beach. This image – actually showing how popular the resort was – undermined the image that Coney Island wanted to portray. Scrawled on the back of the print by Coney Island’s publicists was the message: ‘Not to be used for merchandising.’Jacobson has collected together an extraordinary set of images that shows precisely how the camera can lie, or be made to lie. In one of the most shocking images, taken from the Sudanese famine of 1984, Wendy Wallace photographed the photographers at work snapping an emaciated child who had been brought out to sit in the dirt precisely for that image.It is a theme that recurs in Alex Webb’s pictures of the American invasion of Haiti. A line of US troops lies dramatically – heroically – on the Tarmac at Port au Prince airport aiming their weapons at an unseen enemy. Most media organisations showed this image. Webb’s version shows the reality: the only figures are half a dozen and more photographers and cameramen crouched in front of the soldiers, puncturing the dramatic image in a campaign that was to see virtually no opposition to US troops.Perhaps the most shocking image of all comes from the US military disaster in Mogadishu in 1993 – described in Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down, subsequenty turned into a film – in which dead US servicemen were dragged through the streets. Paul Watson photographed one of the bodies, a man naked save for his torn underpants where his genitals were visible. The first picture that he shot was full length, the image that appeared in Time magazine where the picture editors digitally removed the offending genitalia.Aware that Associated Press, which he was also shooting for, would never agree to alter an image after the event and that the picture he had taken would be too strong for most of AP’s US clients, Watson returned hurriedly to the scene to photograph it again with the body at half length with a woman’s foot standing on the dead man’s face.