Books

Book Review: Believing Is Seeing

| Fri Sep. 2, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography

By Errol Morris

THE PENGUIN PRESS

We expect photography to reflect reality, to encapsulate undeniable facts. In this book, filmmaker Errol Morris dismantles that notion, showing that even the least ambiguous photos present a cropped version of truth. He interrogates famous images from the Civil War, the Depression, and Iraq with characteristic curiosity. Trying to deconstruct the notorious photo of an Abu Ghraib guard grinning over a corpse (an image also featured in his film, Standard Operating Procedure), Morris gets a crash course from an authority on facial expressions. While obsessing over a 150-year-old Crimean War photo that may have been staged, he consults shadow experts and forensic imagery specialists and even sets out to find the exact spot where it was taken. "Photographs reveal and they conceal," Morris writes. In short, those proverbial 1,000 words may require a bit of fact-checking.

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