April 28, 2021 ·

CaseyBeal

It’s a brave ambition, in times like ours, to turn away from the seductive certainties of capital-T Truth. The inaugural issue of the multimedia platform Truth In Photography, which launched online last February, lacks for neither ambition, nor bravery.

Truth in Photography challenges the notion that photography works in service of absolute objectivity. Instead it holds up a diversity of perspectives, many different ways of seeing, as evidence that truths compound, multiply, contradict, and coexist. Through its curated exhibitions, the site’s winter issue presents a social and cultural mosaic, offering a depth and integrity to its pluralistic reflections on many of photography’s contemporary and longstanding ethical issues.

Protesters in NYC organized to protest for Black Lives Matter and against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd. This protest began in Foley Square but moved into Brooklyn as protesters walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Barclays Center. May 29, 2020. © Fanta Diop / Bronx Documentary Center

Curated by the founder of the prolific non-profit Documentary Arts, Alan Govenar, Truth in Photography is intended as an “an open-ended forum for active dialogue and discussion about photography and social change.” Govenar delivers the same wide- ranging, multimedia spirit that has animated Documentary Arts for the last 35 years. The result of a collaboration with Magnum Photos, Aperture, and the International Center of Photography, [the project has the joyfully overstuffed feel of an energetic conversation, careening from topic to topic, with much to say and even more ground to cover.

The first issue sprawls across three broad themes and weaves compelling resonances between its 16 photo essays, recorded Zoom conversations, short videos, documentary excerpts, and texts. Images and lectures from professional photographers sit alongside vernacular photos of various provenance, speaking to daily life and experience. The site’s horizontal ethos also extends to a section that allows visitors to submit their own photos and essays, which are shared on the platform.

There’s no one central vision, but truths emerge along common fault lines. The U.S.- Mexico border features prominently as a subject: cheerful painted messages upon the narrow slats of the border wall; peeling paint and metal bars on trucks ferrying would-be migrant children toward a fate that will likely be unkind; the too-old gazes of eyes that already know their odds; dun landscapes, sunwashed and forlorn.

Honduran migrants taking part in a caravan heading to the US, get a ride on a truck near Pijijiapan, southern Mexico on October 26, 2018. © Guillermo Arias

As part of one exhibition, official US Customs and Border Patrol images portraying the border wall are counterpoised against photos by Griselda San Martin: the same subject, but from the perspective of those against whose lives and aspirations the wall is being built.

Photographic ethics provide another major fulcrum for the winter issue: rather than moralizing answers, the multi-vocal approach lends itself to posing serious questions. Under what circumstances is it unethical to alter an image? What is the ethical status of photos of death and violence? What of representations of different vulnerable populations? Who do these serve? The exhibitions express great care in providing resources for readers to inform themselves, delve deeper, and become involved.

In the flat of Ludmilla Alexandrovna. Sister Natalia Georgivna comes to her three times a week when her son is at work for 48 hours and not able to look after her. Natalia works for the Russian orthodox charity Miloserdi as a patronage. She cares for the old and sick who otherwise wouldn’t get any help. Moscow, Russia, April 24 2020.
©Nanna Heitmann / Magnum Photos
Mike and Bonnie get high on the train tracks. Pete injects Bonnie. 2016-2017. ©Todd R. Darling

In a text accompanying the issue, Aperture Foundation’s Chris Boot writes: “Truth in photography is a myth. Photography is a fictive medium.” Has our trust in the veracity of an image ever been more tenuous than it is now, in this age of deepfakes and clever photoshop, with media conspiracy theories ringing out from the echo chambers of social media? Perhaps we’re wise to be wary. But what fiction can offer is the ability to illuminate our more difficult truths – the ones we can’t look at straight on.

As a repository of insightful discussion on the politics, ethics, and soul of an image, Truth in Photography offers a wealth of purpose and integrity.

Casey Beal

April 2021

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