I don’t think that a photo can really be relied upon for Truth. I like to think that photos are the most absolute proof of what is happening in a scene, but I know that to not to be true. This is the case with almost all art- if it were meant to be interpreted a certain way it wouldn’t be art, and I certainly think photography is a form of art.
In a photo we can only see what the photographer wants us to see. So even if the photographer is unbiased as possible, we are still only going to see the situation through their eyes. It is impossible to include all angles of a scene, all of the people, history and complexity of any given situation in a photo.
Let’s play a game. You look at a picture, and guess what it’s about- if you’ve seen the photo before or know what it’s from already, you can’t play. BEFORE you scroll down, try to guess the background story, so to speak, of the image. Questions to ask yourself:
Who is this man?
Where is he?
What is he doing?
Who is he doing it with?
Now it’s your turn- check out the picture here.
Looking at this picture for the first time, I was positive this was some sort of a religious photo. Here is a man, looking like he lives in a poor country, with an almost worshipping smile on his face. To me, this seems like a pretty typical religious photo. There is even a halo of light around his head! But, no, if you scroll down, you’ll see that this man is actually experiencing the rare treat of a movie theatre.
Without the context of reporting, we would have no idea the Truth of this scene. So photos, while they can accurately depict what the human eye sees, cannot depict the Truth. The photo is like vision, in a sense. Having sight without thought would be pointless, our brains need to assign meaning to things to make sense of them. Without that order, or in this case without an accompanying narrative, we cannot find the truth.