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Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photographyby Errol Morris
Synopses & Reviews
Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year Academy Award-wining filmmaker Errol Morris investigates the hidden truths behind a series of documentary photographs.
In Believing Is Seeing Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris turns his eye to the nature of truth in photography. In his inimitable style, Morris untangles the mysteries behind an eclectic range of documentary photographs, from the ambrotype of three children found clasped in the hands of an unknown soldier at Gettysburg to the indelible portraits of the WPA photography project. Each essay in the book presents the reader with a conundrum and investigates the relationship between photographs and the real world they supposedly record.
During the Crimean War, Roger Fenton took two nearly identical photographs of the Valley of the Shadow of Death-one of a road covered with cannonballs, the other of the same road without cannonballs. Susan Sontag later claimed that Fenton posed the first photograph, prompting Morris to return to Crimea to investigate. Can we recover the truth behind Fenton's intentions in a photograph taken 150 years ago?
In the midst of the Great Depression and one of the worst droughts on record, FDR's Farm Service Administration sent several photographers, including Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans, to document rural poverty. When Rothstein was discovered to have moved the cow skull in his now-iconic photograph, fiscal conservatives-furious over taxpayer money funding an artistic project-claimed the photographs were liberal propaganda. What is the difference between journalistic evidence, fine art, and staged propaganda?
During the Israeli-Lebanese war in 2006, no fewer than four different photojournalists took photographs in Beirut of toys lying in the rubble of bombings, provoking accusations of posing and anti-Israeli bias at the news organizations. Why were there so many similar photographs? And were the accusers objecting to the photos themselves or to the conclusions readers drew from them?
With his keen sense of irony, skepticism, and humor, Morris reveals in these and many other investigations how photographs can obscure as much as they reveal and how what we see is often determined by our beliefs. Part detective story, part philosophical meditation, Believing Is Seeing is a highly original exploration of photography and perception from one of America's most provocative observers.
"Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Morris (Fog of War) offers a collection of fascinating investigative essays on documentary photography and its relation to reality. Arguing that photographs conceal as much as they reveal, Morris revisits historical but still passionately alive controversies (like accusations of photographers working for the Depression-era Farm Security Administration staging scenes) as well as contemporary ones (newswire photos of children's toys, for instance, shot among the rubble of Israel-bombed southern Lebanon). Indeed, one chapter expands on the filmmaker's own Standard Operating Procedure (2008), a documentary examining the Abu Ghraib scandal through an interrogation of its now iconic photographs. Morris begins with a brilliant opening chapter — a template and touchstone for what follows, a case study in the history of documentary photography: Roger Fenton's two 1855 images of The Valley of the Shadow of Death, a road near the front lines of the Crimean War. The gripping account tacitly puts Morris — as well as his various assistants and interlocutors — in the plot of a detective novel, with the author a kind of Hercule Poirot of the photographic world. While not covering new ground everywhere he goes — although his literal retracing of old ground in the case of The Valley of the Shadow of Death leads to surprising revelations — Morris brings an insatiable and contagious curiosity throughout to the convolutions that arise between art and truth telling. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An extraordinary, timely update on the classic Coleridge poem
Is it possible to update a masterpiece? Only, perhaps, with a brand-new masterpiece. Written in 1797, andldquo;The Rime of the Ancient Marinerandrdquo; was the original eco-fable; drawn in 2010, The Rime of the Modern Mariner is a graphic novel, now set in the cesspool of the North Atlantic Garbage Patchandmdash;thus adding a timely and resonant message about the destruction of our seas.
Hayesandrsquo;s visually striking debut is drawn with complex, iconic images reminiscent of old woodcuts. Emerging from every exquisite page are the poemandrsquo;s enduring themes: compassion for nature, a sense of connection among all living things, and rightful outrage at manandrsquo;s thoughtless destruction of the environment. Powerful and evocative, lush and stark, The Rime of the Modern Mariner will appeal to fans of Habibi and Persepolis.
About the Author
Errol Morris is a world-renowned filmmaker-the Academy Award- winning director of The Fog of War and the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Award. His other films include Standard Operating Procedure; Mr. Death; Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control; A Brief History of Time; and The Thin Blue Line.
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