Once again I find myself pondering the discussion about photographic truth. This was triggered by two things, first continued reading of The Cruel Radiance and secondly recent reporting from Japan concerning the ongoing Nuclear crisis. A great deal of ink has been spilled criticizing documentary photography for purporting to tell the truth through a photograph. I find even asking the question to be pointless, why even wonder if a sheet of paper covered in a pattern of colour shades can tell any sort of truth.
However, this is not unique to photography, written reporting is just as suspect in its ability to tell part of the story, to omit key details , or worse still the deliberate misrepresentation of facts. This is where I turn to the reporting of the Nuclear accident in Japan. Today the Telegraph led with "Japan crisis: nuclear workers exposed to 10,000 times more radiation than normal"
What was not said was what this really meant, 10,000 sounds like a lot, but 10,000 times what? 10,000 times zero is still zero. 10,000 times something very small might be something still very small. The desire of the newspapers to find and publish big numbers, irrespective of what they mean can be highly misleading and frighten people without an education in Nuclear Physics. Only reading several reports and researching the affect of exposure can provide the"truth" of this story.
Turning back to photography, a single photo, in the same way as a single news article says nothing. However, 100's of photo's combined with verbal testament and other forms of evidence can amount to the truth. Without the video footage of the wave and the countless photos of stranded ships and the utter destruction, the words alone could never have conveyed the horror of what happened.
Surely photographs need to be seen to provide a part of a complete truth standing alongside multiple sources. Take the photo away and the truth is severely diminished, on its own it says nothing.