Has anyone else out there become gripped by BBC1’s recent drama offering, The Capture? I’m sure that for many this multi-layered story of conspiracy, legal professionals questionably hanging out at raves, and camera footage alternation has made for compulsive viewing.
Watching the series, it’s difficult not to think about how possible the events in this fictional narrative could actually be. Afterall, ‘The Camera Never Lies’ is an expression that’s been questioned or used with irony, probably for as long as the science of photography has existed.
Even in these modern times of airbrushing and photoshop, mention is still made on occasion of The Cottingley Fairies photography. I remember seeing a film about this photographic trickery years ago, in which pictures of fairies were created by two young cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths. In reality, the images attracted the attention of writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs, and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of a psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed; with some accepting the images as genuine, and others believing that they had been falsified, which just goes to show that the concept of Fake News is as old as the hills.
For the most part, we are all now familiar with the concept that many of the countless images we are exposed to every day, could in some way be altered.
Photographic negatives and prints have always been modified, using a variety of techniques. Even in photography’s infancy, retouching was commonly performed to create higher quality images, often leaving visible brush strokes in the resulting photographs. Airbrushing wasn’t developed until the 1890s, however when it arrived, it changed the way we interact with photography forever, making the removal of imperfections and flaws, increasingly possible. There was actually a point, when, due to the demand for black and white photographs to be tinted so they would appear colour, factories were built, employing artists to handle the airbrushing demand!
Of course, now, airbrushing has given way to digital editing, and the world of photoshopping. We’re only a tap and an app away from creating altered images of ourselves on our phones – should we choose too.
The technological advancement and ability to manipulate a photo has skyrocketed in recent years, giving us quick and inexpensive permission to change how we look, what we buy into and, using The Capture as the example, alter the reality of events.
As I’ve mentioned, none of these concepts are new, but with their seemingly increasing occurrences, should we just be more watchful…of what we’re watching?
With absorbing news stories often described as ‘so good you couldn’t make them up’, there is value in applying some caution to what we take in. Facebook’s tips for spotting fake news make for a useful checklist, encouraging people to perhaps, not believe all they see if headlines sound implausible, rich in capital letters and weighted with exclamation marks. The social media giant warns of URLs that appear false, sources that are unheard of, or grammar and spelling that is indefensibly incorrect. It advises considering the context of photographs, which may have been manipulated, checking authors’ sources of information, and paying attention to dates and timelines – which may not correspond with the story itself.
What is clear, is that when it comes to fake news, altered images and ‘corrected’ videos, we must increasingly put more thought into how we perceive what we’re seeing. Whilst thinking with suspicion can drive you crazy, it’s good to steer away from being credulous – even though that can be hard in the moment. Just put a little bit of mind towards acting as a critic, and maybe we’ll all be able to keep a more balanced view in these digitally influenced times.