Winston Churchill by Yosuf Karsh, or allegedly. Churchill wasn't actually available on the day Karsh arrived to photograph him, so Karsh took the above picture of the effigy at Madame Tussaud's instead. You can see because bits of the face have gone all melty. Real eyes were composited in to make the picture more lifelike, but they weren't Churchill's—they were the eyes of a woman who was lecturing on socialism that day down at Speaker's Corner.
To Karsh's annoyance, a Cuban employee at Tussaud's was still rolling "Churchill's" wax cigar, and wouldn't be rushed, but it gave Karsh the idea for a story.
We visited this picture the other day, by Fay Godwin. In point of fact, the dog is stuffed, and is being suspended on invisible wires to hold it in position. The reason the picture is composed like this is because Godwin wanted to hide the giant bamboo pole to which the invisible wires were attached, and the reason the dog, named "Counselor," was stuffed in this position was because he was meant to end up as part of a display showing him dancing with his owner. Sadly, the anticipated display was never completed, because after the owner died it was discovered that stuffing humans is illegal (or "highly questionable," to quote the adjudicating magistrate), whether it was their dying wish to be shown dancing with their dead dogs or not.
This "scene" by Berenice Abbot is of course a structure on a model railroad built by a Mr. Martin McGuirk in upstate New York in the 1930s. The "Suits Topcoats $9.95" sign is actually the size of a bus ticket! (Mr. McGuirk clearly was giving in to flights of fancy, as any idiot knows topcoats never sold for $9.95.) The corner view is cannily staged to control depth of field, always a headache with extreme macro shots such as this.
A particularly poor forgery by Garry Winogrand. The flying figure was photographed separately, standing on one foot at an ice skating rink, bent back and looking upwards, and was patched into the other photo to save it from the dreaded "empty white sky." The fellow on the right, who looks almost as if he's looking at the "upside down" figure, actually just thinks the balloons are for him. Mistake? Winogrand forgot to have the model remove his cigarette before posing!! "It's always something," grumbled the darkroom wizard and master of illusion.
No photograph is ever proof. It is only evidence. Do you believe this event ever happened? Is this an honest photograph, or is it a lie? However positive you are (either way), your answer can never be absolute. It is always provisional.
Evidence accumulates. We hope that the single photograph is never the only evidence, that it is supported by eyewitness accounts and secondhand reportage, other photographs whether by the same or different photographers, and forensic evidence certified by experts. What do you think? Are the white areas crawling around this man's body the result of a direct impression of fire creating overexposed areas in metalized silver on a negative, or are they, perhaps, the result of an artist drawing on a Wacom tablet? Was this print made from one negative or three?
We must each, always, come to our own conclusions about the relative truth-value of photographic reports. And insofar as we must rely only on the photographs, our willingness to believe or our decision to not believe is always provisional, in the case of every picture we come to.
How well do we know the world?
Mike (Thanks to O.G., P.B., and Jeff Hartge for inspiration)
*Semi-satire alert. The point of the post itself, in the final five paragraphs, is very serious, but the "stories" under all the rest of the pictures are false of course.
Featured Comment by Dave Polaschek: "Cf. Officer Obie and the 'twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.' Does this mean Mike has to pay $50 and pick up the garbage?"