writings blog

....and that's the truth/Niko J. Kallianiotis

Photography from its inception was and still is, the ultimate medium of recording, with a scrutiny and precision unprecedented to the gaze 19th-century citizens. In regards to the representation of self, paint of canvas was a thing of the past (do not take this literally) and in a package that was more affordable for the working class and in such oneiric synthetic collaboration between human and a machine. What separated one between illusion and reality were a couple of seconds or more depending on the process. But this post is not about the history and influence of the photographic medium; it is more about the apotheotic insistence in denying to some of us romantics, the notion of truth. We live in an era of utter manipulation both on a social and visual level but since we are talking about photography, let us stick to the latter. I am sensing an alarming and amiable acceptance of manipulation tactics under the aegis of subjectivity;  formidable, disturbing and at times comical. The fear of being perceived as polarized, bitter, jealous or dismissing,  is a motif and a recipe which has resulted in lackof criticism, leaving us hostage to visuals, writings and at times vague symposiums (the few would know)  which are highly embellished and fabricated to accommodate and satisfy a passive populace; a little heavy? It should be. But I am from the Balkans and I like it raw and honest. That conversation about the contemporary affairs in our medium is pretty absent. I am not a writer but I love to write, I am not a photographer but I love to photograph, and I use these two entities to have an honest conversation with myself and my friends, and maybe you.

There is no truth, everything is subjective and open to interpretation to one’s visual appetites concerns and life experiences. The quest for truth and objectivity in a photograph is a farce and one who believes in such a malice notion, a fool; said the con artists of the pseudo-visual culture, if you wish to call the contemporary and poetic visual sewage a culture. I will come back to this theme on a separate topic; keeping things light for this first post is a priority which aims to start a dialogue and have a following of epic proportions. So let's get down to business.

 Photo by Niko J. Kallianiotis, from the ongoing project Motherland, 2016.

Photo by Niko J. Kallianiotis, from the ongoing project Motherland, 2016.

The beauty in our medium and in general in the genre of “straight” photography in all its manifestations, street photography, landscape, portraits, etc. is in the ability translate a moment in time, whatever that moment might be, placing it in a frame which reflects your aesthetic sensibility both on an external but also internal way (descriptive/ emotional). The seduction in our medium and its distinct difference from painting is in the ability and the potential of the photographer to create an unmanipulated image, which is a result of a reflexive or deliberate vision. You can argue for eternity with my proposition since there are many visual artists that manipulate and make interesting imagery that has been an integral part of the medium discourse and contribution to the arts. I totally agree with you but I do not consider visual artists photographers; I consider them exactly that, visual artists using photography as the medium to communicate their concept. For example, I do appreciate and value the work of Gregory Crewdson but I do not consider him a photographer, but I highly respect the work and process. On the other hand, I do consider Steve McCurry a photographer, one who also constructs and manipulates his images for ultimate effect from an exotic location. Steve McCurry, for those not familiar with his work (this is a post for all people so bear with me), took the iconic image of an Afghan girl which made the cover of National Geographic Magazine. No, I am not going to do the work for you by providing you with a link so feel free to google it. And while you’re at it, be exposed to a myriad of recent articles regarding the manipulation fiasco of his images.

    Photograph by Steve McCurry. Top image: Original, Below: Manipulated. Image source :https://aphotographicmind.net/2016/05/07/spot-the-differences/

   Photograph by Steve McCurry. Top image: Original, Below: Manipulated. Image source:https://aphotographicmind.net/2016/05/07/spot-the-differences/

Considering the successful career of McCurry, under the title of a photojournalist, the futile responses from adamant supporters of subjectivity, some of them “elite” figures within the photojournalism/documentary circles, was mind-boggling and that's putting it mildly. The photographer’s response, one who made a name for himself as a photojournalist declared himself a visual storyteller, dismissing his previous title. If you need to remove or add elements in an image while you are photographing in India, you need to reconsider your mode of operation. I am not dismissing work that is done in the region but my point is you have to be visually impaired to not be able to come up with something decent from that region. McCurry, of course, is not the only one; I am using him as an example. Why him and not someone else? Simply for the reason that the responses to his manipulation of travel photography style pictures of people within inferior situations were taken very lightly. If you, me or the average Joe working for a newspaper, magazine or news organization performed these acts on mediocre photographs, all rights would be stripped and would never see the light of day of another assignment. That’s a fact and that's the truth.

 Photograph by Eddie Adams.

Photograph by Eddie Adams.

Some declared that facts are not always the truth after the McCurry incident and implicitly supported such actions, or did not consider them such a big deal. The moment you place yourself in a particular environment, the choice of your lens and aperture, you’re manipulating the scene. Let us reason; Yes, the above observations stand accurate, but to relate and evict the medium and strip it of its objective and truthful qualities is simply docile propaganda. Was Eddie Adams photo of the execution an objective and truthful representation of what happened? Or are we suggesting that if there was a man eating a banana or playing the banjo to the right of the frame, and by positioning himself, Adams excluded him/her from the frame a manipulation? It’s fascinating that we are seriously debating or dismissing the qualities and beauty of our medium in its power to accurately represent a moment, unlike any other medium. The above choices are simply and blandly that, choices. Maybe it applies only to documentary/ photojournalism standards, but the above decisions are far from manipulation.

Personally, and although the basic photography student conventions apply, what I am showing you in my photos is an accurate representation of a moment, seen through my vision, heart and emotional response to the frame. It is not the “truth” but it's a truthful depiction of what I placed in the frame; it is not a manipulation and quite frankly what I experienced at the moment is pretty f--ing objective. And objectively I declare that if you feel the need or urge to add or remove elements in a photo, regardless of the genre please do consider painting or declare yourself an artist that uses photography as the medium to express your intent.

North of Athens, Greece, my beloved grandmother lays at rest. On her grave, there is a photograph to testify two distinct and truthful facts. One, that my grandma existed and the photo of her is an objective and truthful representation of her, unmanipulated in all its glory. Secondly, that death is an unavoidable and objective truth. I have made two trips back home since she passed, and I have not found the strength to visit the grave because some truths are unbearable.


by Niko J Kallianiotis