The Summary of the Myth of Photographic Truth Essay

In the book “Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture” written by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, the myth of photographic truth is addressed. Sturken and Cartwright stated that “photography[…] was developed in Europe during the mid-nineteenth century, when concepts of positivist science held sway” (Sturken and Cartwright 17).

Positivism is a philosophy deems that “scientific knowledge is the only authentic knowledge and concerns itself with truth about the world” (Sturken and Cartwright 17).

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This philosophy suggests that machines are more dependable than humans that they can record reality more precisely.

“There have been many arguments for and against the idea that photographs are objective renderings of the real world” (Sturken and Cartwright 17). Some argue that cameras present the world in a subjective human point of view; some argue that photographs reflect the the real word directly.

The French theorist Roland Barthes says “[a] photograph, unlike a drawing, offers an unprecedented conjunction between what is here now (the image) and what was there then (the referent, or object, thing, or place)” (Sturken and Cartwright 17). He thinks photograph has the role of studium and he also thinks the truth of photographic is a myth. To him, truth is “always culturally inflected, never pure and uninfluenced by contextual factors” (Sturken and Cartwright 18).

Photographs have deep emotional connection to the objects around us which can be ones we like or dislike. Although we know that images can be modified easily, they still lie in the belief of objectivity. “Trolley-New Orleans (1995)”, is a black and white photograph taken by Robert Frank, portraits a group of people on a trolley in New Orleans. Sturken and Cartwright suggest that “a white matron [looks] suspicious, a white boy in his Sunday best, a black man looking mournful” (Sturken and Cartwright 19) in the photograph.

Some suggest that this photograph has a connotation of segregation in American going through change. Sturken and Cartwright believes “the faces of the passengers each look outward with different expressions, responding in different ways to their lives, their journey” (Sturken and Cartwright 19). In conclusion, Sturken and Cartwright state that Roland Barthes believes a photograph has both denotative, which means literal; and connotative, which means symbolic, meanings.

Title Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture
Author Marita Sturken, Lisa Cartwright
Type of Writing Textbook
Category Sociology, Psychology, Visual Art
Country The US
First Issue 2001
Main Problem Explaining the information visuals convey in modern society

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