Tag Archives: the camera never lies

Reflective tasks for the Camera Never Lies Course: Week 1

Task 1: Review the photographs which are special to you, and consider to what extent the circumstances in which those images were taken give them importance.  Now stand back, figuratively, and consider one of these images on its merits as a photograph.  How far does that image have meaning to you because of its history, as opposed to its aesthetic as a photograph?  Many technically ‘terrible’ images are prized because they capture ‘that moment.’ 

StellaMy reply: As I rummaged through my mental drawers for images I realized that all the images that are significant to me have either me or one or more of my family members or friends on them. I was present at some of the historical events, e.g. during the fall of communism in 1989, but none of the images that I took or know of are as important for me as of the ones with my personal circles.

One image that comes to mind as significant was taken a few hours after my first child was born, see on the right. It is not a particularly sharp picture. The lights are not perfect either. The composition is OK, I think, because I cropped the image after I took it. But it captured a moment when my life changed. She, my daughter can always count on me from this point on. If she needs a finger to suck on I am there for her. Even if she doesn’t know what she needs.

Task 2: Consider memorials and images which have meaning to you from a cultural and historical perspective – buildings, murals, paintings, statues, etc.  Consider why they are important to you, and what they are evocative of: are they tapping into an older heritage of images which are important to your national, community or individual identity?

Hungarian Republic of CouncilsMy reply: This statue, based on on a poster, used to stand close to the high school I went to in Hungary. It memorialized the short lived era of the Hungarian Republic of Councils in 1919. I was a product of the Communist, Hungarian education system, which romanticized this era and emphasized only its positive accomplishments, while not mentioning the negatives. Hence, as I grew up, I enjoyed the dynamic nature of the poster and the statue. I remember climbing onto its knee too. Then the system fell, and the statue was moved to the outskirts of Budapest, along with other similar statues, to a “Memento Park.”

I think the question was supposed to make us think of memorials that provide a cohesive narrative for a group/nation. But with the history of Hungary it would be hard to pick one, because people remember and think of the communist era differently. My memories are mixed too. I had a happy childhood, and being around this statue was part of it. But now, as an adult, I cannot deny that both the 1919 era and the later version of communism was guilty of ruining the lives of many. Yes, this image evokes issues of identities, but these are complex ones, not possible to summarize in a short paragraph.

Boling: Guernica (2008)Task 3: I rather ducked the issue of interpreting Picasso’s Guernica … mainly because Gijs van Hensbergen does such a good job.  Please review his piece in on the BBC website and comment upon it.

My reply: Reading that article gave me context for the painting. It helped understanding the origins of the details, like where the horse or bull or head… evolved from and what they might mean. It also reminded me that art appreciation is much more than analyzing a picture (its colors, composition) on its own. Pictures always exist in a larger context and come from the personal experiences of artists. The more we know about these the more we can appreciate the nuances of possible meanings. I saw the original of this. I was impressed by its immense size as I mentioned it in my review of Dave Boling’s book Guernica.

Task 4: Review the images of advertising in Four and Six – either those in the lecture, or from the rest of the site – are you surprised that some of these have been altered for commercial purposes?

My reply: No, I was not surprised. However I never considered before that the covers of political magazines, e.g. Times, Newsweek are also part of the advertising scene. I knew and accepted the magazines directed to men or women specifically are using altered, sexy” images of their topics (scantily dressed men/women, muscle cars, weapons, tech gizmos…) But it didn’t occur to me that the covers of “serious” magazines need to play the same role: create a desire in the target audience to buy the product. One way to do that is to crate emotionally provocative images, see the Reagan with a teardrop pic.

Task 5: In viewing the photographic reportage in newspapers, magazines and news organisations pages on the web, to what degree do you take the pictures ‘on faith’ as being authentic and unaltered?  Can you think of an example where something ‘just didn’t look’ right?  Consider what this means for future researchers using this material as a resource for the writing of history in twenty, thirty or forty years hence.  This will be a theme we will return to.

My reply: I used to visit regularly sites that show “photoshop disasters”, e.g. psdisasters.com. I enjoyed the deconstructions of and snarly remarks on examples of photo manipulations that are obviously went over the top. However it got repetitive, so I rarely do now. But when you ask for an example these sites come to my mind. In current context and for educated mind it is obvious that these magazine images are altered. However it is quite possible that not everyone is aware of these, particularly in the target audience. I wonder whether 20-40 years from now ,if historians look at these pictures the digital changes will be obvious or not.

I don’t have to go that far. I remember the marches that we had to participate as kids during Communism. The official photos show smiling faces, rows of happy people after rows. Then I also remember a friend of mine who who was kicked out of high-school because he showed the finger to the tribune where the leaders of the country were standing, during one of these marches. Not all was well back then, even if the pictures you can find would suggest so.

*This blog entry is part of my series on the “The Camera Never Lies Course” course I am taking.

Camera Never Lies Course: Week 1

Below is what I took away from the video lectures of the first week of my Camera Never Lies course*. There were lots of examples of altered images, some of them I was familiar with, others not. Majority of them were taken from the fourfoursix website, which is a great resource for the topic of the course. I appreciated that the professor prepared an accompanying document, that not just set the aims, objectives and learning outcomes for the course, but also included lots of links for all the images and topics mentioned in the lectures.

Most of the  Guernica talk was about the historical context of the event and how it fit into the narrative of the two world wars. I was quite familiar with that already, so I found that section, the longest lecture of the first week, a bit boring.

I boldfaced the points I found the most interesting. All the text is taken straight from the transcription of the lectures.

Use of Images

  • We can gain a great deal, from seeing what was represented to a culture or society and how that in itself reflected on their opinions.
  • The painted portrait. Very staged…allow in an individual to make a statement…historian  interrogate that for those meaningsTiananmen Square , and to help shed some light on their status and their perspective in society.
  • about the use of photographs as historical record, is what happens the millisecond before?
  • If there are so many millions of photographs taken why have non ever shown a UFO?
  • we can also make judgments about the nature of events by the way that they are memorialized
  • Jean de la Croix – it’s painted nearly 40 years after the event and very clearly embodies the idea that everyone is involved in the revolution including this stylized view of truth and justice.
  • Tiananmen Square –  this an image of oppression, this is an image of courage and this is an image of determination, hope.


  • GuernicaThe 1997 Oxford Dictionary of the 20th century had part of the Guernica picture on its front cover.>
  • The first time that we have, intensive bombing of a purely civilian target, which was not defended.
  • It had a small ammunition’s factory
  • transition is the willingness of societies to accept the mass slaughter of civilians
  • [During WWI w]e do have bombing of London, via Zeppelins. In fact it was such a curious and unusual occurrence that various members of the London population came out and pointed upwards to the German airships raining bombs, somewhat inefficiently, down on them.
  • The reporting of what happened in Guernica was important to it’s significance overall.
  • George Steer, who is a correspondent for the, the Times of London wrote back and wrote back emotively about the aftermath. Franco’s forces actually denied that bombing had taken place.
  • [Picasso] already been commissioned to provide something for a Spanish exhibition within Paris but was profoundly effected by the reportage that he received.
  • A certain currency is given to black and white.  We’re more trusting of black and white photographs. For no really good reason, we think of them in terms of being authentic. They are reportage. Color is almost a diversion. 
  • It displays death in a way that’s not intended to be realistic in terms of reportage. [It gives] a sense of turmoil and anguish and bewilderment that stems from the event


  • Every personal computer now, has some elementary program built into it that will allow you to alter images, to one degree or another.
  • It wasn’t so long ago that National Geographic required photographers to guarantee they hadn’t used a filter on their camera before accepting photographs.
  • Most images are now captured digitally. We don’t have the artifact to the same degree that we had with the film negative
  • There are too many steps in which images can be altered or manipulated.
    What is authentic? What is the image?

The Image in Advertising

  • When it come to advertising there’s also what is acceptable, what’s not acceptable as times change. 
  • Airbrushing out the cigarette held by Paul McCartney [on the cover of Abbey Road] as they cross the zebra crossing. You get an idea of how the concerns of society have changed.
  • In  2007 Time magazine ran an article, How The Right Went Wrong. It displays fairly clearly Ronald Reagan but, digitally added was a tear across his right cheek.
  • In 2003 GQ magazine had Kate Winslet on their cover.  Kate Winslet one of the finest actresses of her generation was digitally altered to narrow her hips.

The Image in Politics

  • In April 2009, the Israeli newspaper Yated Ne’eman, took out of a collective photograph of the Israeli cabinet, the two women member’s portrait.
  • In 2010 the State Run Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram, had digitally altered an image which showed President Mubarak walking with Israeli leaders, those from the US, the  Queen Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon — mother of Queen Elizabeth II — and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie KingPalestine and, and Jordan. [They moved] Mubarak so that he was at the head of Posse, rather walking behind them.
  • 1939. Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, standing next to the queen mother Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. The king, George VI, had been removed from the image.  It was an image which was used for publicity of Mackenzie King’s re-election campaign. And it was felt that his stature, both physically and figuratively, was going to be enhanced by standing next to the Queen, rather than the Queen and her husband.


  • 2003, we have a photograph from Basra. It’s a composite photograph. It may have improved the composition. But did nothing for his professional career.
  • 2011…football match in Spain. By removing the player, it appeared that, no offside had taken place. …someone thought it was important to play to their particular audience at the time.
  • 2006..Israeli air attack on Lebanon. Black smoke had been added.

*This blog entry is part of my series on the “The Camera Never Lies Course” course I am taking.

New Course: The Camera Never Lies – Intro

I am “taking” a University of London course at Coursera, titled “The Camera Never Lies”. Just like with the other course, I will probably not get the verified certificate for $49, but will listen to all the lectures, do all the assignments and participate in the online discussions. Here is the information about it form the course’s public page:

About the Course

This short history course is an introduction to use of images and other media as historical evidence in the twentieth century, issues of authenticity and manipulation, and the place of film and historical adoptions as public history.

Cover for Mary Warner Marien: Photography: A Cultural History, 4th Edn. 2014.Course Syllabus

Week 1: The Camera Never Lies – Introduction
Week 2: Images and History in the Twentieth Century
Week 3: The Air-Brushing of History: Stalin and Falsification
Week 4: Photojournalism, Authenticity and Matters of Public Acceptability – The Battle of Mogadishu
Week 5: The Power of the Image – Mount Suribachi, 1945
Week 6: From Page to Screen – Film as Public History

Suggested Readings

To give a background perspective to the course, participants may wish to consult:
Mary Warner Marien: Photography: A Cultural History, 4th Edn. 2014.