Tag Archives: Filmmaker

Interview: Jon Rafman, The lack of history in the post-Internet age

 

Jon Rafman is a Canadian artist and filmmaker based in Montreal. He recently gave a talk about his work entitled “In Search of the Virtual Sublime” at the Gaité Lyrique, a new space devoted to digital culture in Paris. I met up with Jon in a café near the Jardin du Luxembourg to discuss Google Street View, street photography, the cyberflâneur and what the future looks like.

How did you start working in the digital space?

After I graduated I discovered a community of artists on the social bookmarking site del.icio.us. It really felt that an incredible artistic dialogue was taking place informally: a new vernacular was being formed online. There was so much energy to it. The dialogue was so exciting, mixing humour and irony, critique and celebration. Del.icio.us was the platform on which I really started working with the Internet. At this point Facebook and Tumblr have pretty much replaced it.

I had known about early net art but I was never attracted to its glitchy aesthetic. So when I discovered this community I felt like I had found what I had been searching for all through art school. Del.icio.us led me to various different collectives like Paintfx. That is the period when I started my Google Street View project.

The project started out as PDF books. And then I started to print out the images just like photographs. I experimented with the printing for a while and eventually decided to print the images as large format C-prints. In 2009 the art blog Art Fag City asked me to write an essay, and that was when the project really took off, but I already had a huge archive of material by that stage. The 9-eyes tumblr blog came directly out of that. I had already been working with Google Street View (GSV) for one or two years when I created 9-eyes.

What was your process to find the locations and images that you used?

At first it was just long, arduous surf sessions. I went to places I wanted to visit, mainly in America (GSV had not been launched in many countries at the time), but not in a systematic way. As the project grew, I learned certain tricks. For example the best place to go for images is to check where the Google cars are and to follow those. Otherwise, Google may have removed any ‘anomalies’, which often make the most interesting images.

Once the project went viral I started getting tons of submissions from people. Some of these I used directly and some would act as a departure point to search for images.

What were you looking for specifically?

I was working a bit like a street photographer: keeping an open mind and responding to my intuition. The process was really about editing down. The entire project is a process of subtraction: since everything has already been captured on GSV, it is about editing down until you find the core, essential moments. I think it could be considered as a major editing project.

Are there any online GSV communities or forums that you use to find images?

There is a forum for pretty much anything you can think of. There is a forum where people only collect images of prostitutes, some of which I used in 9-eyes. I don’t like fetishizing labour. I don’t want to play up the amount of time I spend finding these images. This can become a kind of artistic crutch. The greatest works of art for me can be a single gesture that took very little time at all.

Even though this project is inherently time consuming, I don’t want that to be its central focus. It could easily have become an endurance piece, a kind of artistic marathon. If I had an algorithm to find all these amazing images, I think I would be equally as happy.

Take Duchamp’s ready-mades: they changed art. If everything can be art, then what is art? I see that as the healthiest state for art to be in: questioning its very nature.

How conscious were you of specific street photographers’ styles when taking these images?

I was very aware of photographic history when working on this project. I really believe that photography was the medium of the twentieth century, because of the ambiguity surrounding the question of whether it was or was not art, due to photography’s mechanical nature. I saw GSV in some way as the ultimate conclusion of the medium of photography: the world being constantly photographed from every perspective all the time. As if photography had become an indifferent, neutral god observing the world.

The perception of reality associated with photography is very modern. In the past, representations in the form of images were always imbued with a certain magical quality. The photograph shows a world that is empty of that. It is just a reflection of the surface of things. In that way the photograph is the perfect embodiment of our perception of the modern world. More than specific photographic history, I was thinking of photography from a philosophical point of view.

Most of your work deals with digital media of some kind. Do you consider yourself to be a digital artist?

For a while the term “Internet-aware” was used in relation to artists working with the Internet. Nobody was happy with the term, or with “net artists” which felt too ghettoising. In the same way, many people do not feel comfortable with the term “new media artist”, because it implies a kind of fetishisation of new technology.

I would prefer to be recognised simply as an artist. Unless you are very specific to a medium, which I’m not, I don’t think it is necessary to add these labels. I’m fine with championing net art, but I don’t want to be wedded to it forever.

Take Elad Lassry for example. He is one of the most successful young photographers that I know, and in some way I think that is because he doesn’t position his work as photography but as art. I have a lot of respect for those ‘purists’ that are attached to the formal qualities of their medium, but I don’t want to be associated too closely with a particular medium as I’m interested in exploring many different approaches.

There are other artists, including Michael Wolf and Doug Rickard, who have worked with Google Street View. Do you see GSV as a territory where there is only room for one or do you see it as a vast territory that more and more artists are likely to explore?

GSV is in the zeitgeist and it is a vast territory to explore. In a way I’m surprised that there haven’t been more artists working with it. We all have different methods of working. For example, Michael Wolf photographs the screen to make his images, whereas I think that Doug Rickard removes all traces of Google from the images: the symbols, the Google copyright. My process is more akin to the ready-made.

You have also referred to the flâneur in relation to your work. How does this term that is generally associated with nineteenth century art in Paris relate to your practice?

I’m very interested in the notion of the flâneur. The lack of history in this new post-internet age is making it harder to have a sense of self. The Internet has already become so ubiquitous, that it is now a banal part of our reality.

In Internet years things are forgotten so quickly. The importance of history in building a sense of self is one of the main themes running through my work. Many of my projects focus on very marginal sub-cultures such as gaming (ed. Codes of Honor, for example). They feel the lack of a sense of self acutely because their culture can die out any day. The game is everything to them but from one the day to the next the culture of that game becomes obsolete.

The reason I tie in the flâneur is because I want to find the connection between the cyberflâneur and the flâneur of the Parisian arcades of the late nineteenth century. On one level the comparison is absurd, but on another level it is very apt. In the same way that Internet cultures die off, so did the arcades of Paris.

People talk about how the Internet age is so new, and the idea that technology has changed everything. I think it is very important to see that many of these things existed in different forms in the past. For instance, the information overload that is thought of as defining the Internet era dates back to early modern times and the emergence of the modern city.

The NYTimes recently published an article by Evgeny Morosov about the death of the cyberflâneur. Morosov makes the point that in the age of social media, web surfing is essentially over, that the information we get from the Internet is essentially pre-digested. Do you agree with that view?

People often ask me what the future is going to look like… I’m not really sure why… maybe simply because I work with new technologies.

In the past we relied on dystopian and utopian views of the future. The future was thought of as fundamentally different from the present. Today, there is a sense that the future is going to be a lot more banal, that we are already living in the future (like with the phone that you are recording this conversation with), that the future is going to be more of the same… more apps and technologies that are designed to mediate and ‘improve’ our experience of reality. It is essentially a more Facebook-like future. This is very different from the early Internet, which was more like an exploration of a vast unknown territory.

 

Note: Jon Rafman’s latest exhibition, MMXII BNPJ, opens at American Medium in New York on May 5.

Share


Related posts:

  1. Rewriting history
  2. Notes on 2010

Interview: Jon Rafman, The lack of history in the post-Internet age

 

Jon Rafman is a Canadian artist and filmmaker based in Montreal. He recently gave a talk about his work entitled “In Search of the Virtual Sublime” at the Gaité Lyrique, a new space devoted to digital culture in Paris. I met up with Jon in a café near the Jardin du Luxembourg to discuss Google Street View, street photography, the cyberflâneur and what the future looks like.

How did you start working in the digital space?

After I graduated I discovered a community of artists on the social bookmarking site del.icio.us. It really felt that an incredible artistic dialogue was taking place informally: a new vernacular was being formed online. There was so much energy to it. The dialogue was so exciting, mixing humour and irony, critique and celebration. Del.icio.us was the platform on which I really started working with the Internet. At this point Facebook and Tumblr have pretty much replaced it.

I had known about early net art but I was never attracted to its glitchy aesthetic. So when I discovered this community I felt like I had found what I had been searching for all through art school. Del.icio.us led me to various different collectives like Paintfx. That is the period when I started my Google Street View project.

The project started out as PDF books. And then I started to print out the images just like photographs. I experimented with the printing for a while and eventually decided to print the images as large format C-prints. In 2009 the art blog Art Fag City asked me to write an essay, and that was when the project really took off, but I already had a huge archive of material by that stage. The 9-eyes tumblr blog came directly out of that. I had already been working with Google Street View (GSV) for one or two years when I created 9-eyes.

What was your process to find the locations and images that you used?

At first it was just long, arduous surf sessions. I went to places I wanted to visit, mainly in America (GSV had not been launched in many countries at the time), but not in a systematic way. As the project grew, I learned certain tricks. For example the best place to go for images is to check where the Google cars are and to follow those. Otherwise, Google may have removed any ‘anomalies’, which often make the most interesting images.

Once the project went viral I started getting tons of submissions from people. Some of these I used directly and some would act as a departure point to search for images.

What were you looking for specifically?

I was working a bit like a street photographer: keeping an open mind and responding to my intuition. The process was really about editing down. The entire project is a process of subtraction: since everything has already been captured on GSV, it is about editing down until you find the core, essential moments. I think it could be considered as a major editing project.

Are there any online GSV communities or forums that you use to find images?

There is a forum for pretty much anything you can think of. There is a forum where people only collect images of prostitutes, some of which I used in 9-eyes. I don’t like fetishizing labour. I don’t want to play up the amount of time I spend finding these images. This can become a kind of artistic crutch. The greatest works of art for me can be a single gesture that took very little time at all.

Even though this project is inherently time consuming, I don’t want that to be its central focus. It could easily have become an endurance piece, a kind of artistic marathon. If I had an algorithm to find all these amazing images, I think I would be equally as happy.

Take Duchamp’s ready-mades: they changed art. If everything can be art, then what is art? I see that as the healthiest state for art to be in: questioning its very nature.

How conscious were you of specific street photographers’ styles when taking these images?

I was very aware of photographic history when working on this project. I really believe that photography was the medium of the twentieth century, because of the ambiguity surrounding the question of whether it was or was not art, due to photography’s mechanical nature. I saw GSV in some way as the ultimate conclusion of the medium of photography: the world being constantly photographed from every perspective all the time. As if photography had become an indifferent, neutral god observing the world.

The perception of reality associated with photography is very modern. In the past, representations in the form of images were always imbued with a certain magical quality. The photograph shows a world that is empty of that. It is just a reflection of the surface of things. In that way the photograph is the perfect embodiment of our perception of the modern world. More than specific photographic history, I was thinking of photography from a philosophical point of view.

Most of your work deals with digital media of some kind. Do you consider yourself to be a digital artist?

For a while the term “Internet-aware” was used in relation to artists working with the Internet. Nobody was happy with the term, or with “net artists” which felt too ghettoising. In the same way, many people do not feel comfortable with the term “new media artist”, because it implies a kind of fetishisation of new technology.

I would prefer to be recognised simply as an artist. Unless you are very specific to a medium, which I’m not, I don’t think it is necessary to add these labels. I’m fine with championing net art, but I don’t want to be wedded to it forever.

Take Elad Lassry for example. He is one of the most successful young photographers that I know, and in some way I think that is because he doesn’t position his work as photography but as art. I have a lot of respect for those ‘purists’ that are attached to the formal qualities of their medium, but I don’t want to be associated too closely with a particular medium as I’m interested in exploring many different approaches.

There are other artists, including Michael Wolf and Doug Rickard, who have worked with Google Street View. Do you see GSV as a territory where there is only room for one or do you see it as a vast territory that more and more artists are likely to explore?

GSV is in the zeitgeist and it is a vast territory to explore. In a way I’m surprised that there haven’t been more artists working with it. We all have different methods of working. For example, Michael Wolf photographs the screen to make his images, whereas I think that Doug Rickard removes all traces of Google from the images: the symbols, the Google copyright. My process is more akin to the ready-made.

You have also referred to the flâneur in relation to your work. How does this term that is generally associated with nineteenth century art in Paris relate to your practice?

I’m very interested in the notion of the flâneur. The lack of history in this new post-internet age is making it harder to have a sense of self. The Internet has already become so ubiquitous, that it is now a banal part of our reality.

In Internet years things are forgotten so quickly. The importance of history in building a sense of self is one of the main themes running through my work. Many of my projects focus on very marginal sub-cultures such as gaming (ed. Codes of Honor, for example). They feel the lack of a sense of self acutely because their culture can die out any day. The game is everything to them but from one the day to the next the culture of that game becomes obsolete.

The reason I tie in the flâneur is because I want to find the connection between the cyberflâneur and the flâneur of the Parisian arcades of the late nineteenth century. On one level the comparison is absurd, but on another level it is very apt. In the same way that Internet cultures die off, so did the arcades of Paris.

People talk about how the Internet age is so new, and the idea that technology has changed everything. I think it is very important to see that many of these things existed in different forms in the past. For instance, the information overload that is thought of as defining the Internet era dates back to early modern times and the emergence of the modern city.

The NYTimes recently published an article by Evgeny Morosov about the death of the cyberflâneur. Morosov makes the point that in the age of social media, web surfing is essentially over, that the information we get from the Internet is essentially pre-digested. Do you agree with that view?

People often ask me what the future is going to look like… I’m not really sure why… maybe simply because I work with new technologies.

In the past we relied on dystopian and utopian views of the future. The future was thought of as fundamentally different from the present. Today, there is a sense that the future is going to be a lot more banal, that we are already living in the future (like with the phone that you are recording this conversation with), that the future is going to be more of the same… more apps and technologies that are designed to mediate and ‘improve’ our experience of reality. It is essentially a more Facebook-like future. This is very different from the early Internet, which was more like an exploration of a vast unknown territory.

 

Note: Jon Rafman’s latest exhibition, MMXII BNPJ, opens at American Medium in New York on May 5.

Share

One Morning at Home with John Irving

Whether on a grand-tour TV show or in an architectural magazine, it’s not too hard to see what a famous person’s house looks like. It’s also, thanks to paparazzi and tabloid photos, easy to see a picture of a famous person. But it’s less easy to capture iconic cultural movers and shakers truly at home—in both senses of the phrase.

That’s what photographer and videographer Shaul Schwarz aims to do with a new series of videos for TIME, debuting today with Schwarz’s visit to the home of author John Irving. “The environment sets you up to meet a person you already know,” says Schwarz.

The photographer asks his subjects what they do when they’re alone at home, really relaxing; for Irving, that question revealed a room devoted to wrestling, the author’s version of what Schwarz calls an “away-from-the-world zone.” Not that it’s automatically easier to access that intimacy when you meet a person in his own space. “Even if you have a new friend and you go to his home,” says Schwarz, “it takes a little bit to break the ice.” But when it does break, the end result is an intimate look at a celebrity, tending more toward a Sunday-morning-coffee-with-a-friend feel than a red carpet one.

“The location is, at the end of the day, some kind of reflection of the person. It’s all a vehicle to show a different look at the person,” says Schwarz. “We all know you can tell a little bit about a person from where he chooses to live.”

Read more about John Irving in this week’s issue of TIME: The Wrestler

Click here to see TIME’s archive stories about John Irving

Shaul Schwarz is an award winning photographer and filmmaker. Schwarz is represented by Reportage/Getty Images.

Filmmaker J.J. Murphy to Present and Discuss Rarely Seen Classic

1.30.12_Murphy_blog.jpgThis Thursday, we will be hosting acclaimed filmmaker J.J. Comcast NJ . Murphy for a screening of his rarely seen, seminal film, Print Generation, which raises questions about perception, memory, time and the transmission of information. The film, which duplicates the same one-minute piece of film 50 times, maps the deterioration of each generation from abstract to concrete and back again. proveedor factura electrnica . article writing submission . The screening will start at 6 p.m. in the MoCP at 600 S. Michigan Ave. Afterward, Murphy will answer questions from the audience.

HOME.SWEET.HOME: Gerald Slota and Neil LaBute

Slota, LaBute

Exhibition on view:
January 7–February 4, 2012

Robert Berman Gallery

Bergamot Station:
2525 Michigan Avenue
Santa Monica, CA
(310) 453-7535

Robert Berman Gallery presents a collaborative exhibition from photographer Gerald Slota and filmmaker and playwright Neil LaBute. Embracing themes of family and relationships, HOME.SWEET.HOME showcases the two-way effort of ominous photographic collages by Slota and accompanying suggestive text by LaBute.

The ideas for this exhibition began when Slota and LaBute started communicating via e-mail which developed into a series of menacing postcards titled, “Because the Darkness Feeds My Soul,” featured in Aperture magazine issue 196.

Meaninglessness of the Muse: Artist talk by Gueorgui Pinkhassov

JAPAN. Tokyo. 1996. The new metro. © Gueorgui Pinkhassov / Magnum

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm

A conversation with Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Russia’s only Magnum photographer. He photographs color and light to translate his impressions of reality in a poetic way which creates for the viewer the experience of a daydream. At Aperture, he will discuss his inspirations, current projects and new ideas, and answer questions from the audience.

Born in Moscow, Pinkhassov studied cinematography and later worked as a set photographer at the Mosfilm Studio. His work was noticed by the prominent Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who invited Pinkhassov to the set to make a reportage about his film Stalker.

Pinkhassov moved permanently to Paris in 1985 and joined Magnum Photos in 1988. He works regularly for the international press, particularly for Geo, Actuel, and the New York Times Magazine and has two books of his photographs published. His work is also included in the new book, The New York Times Magazine Photographs (Aperture, 2011), edited by Kathy Ryan, the award-winning photo editor of the magazine.

Presented by Snob Project at Aperture Foundation
547 West 27th Street, 4th floor
New York, New York

(212) 505-5555

FREE

Stephen Ferry Recipient of First Tim Hetherington Grant

On Tuesday, World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch awarded the inaugural Tim Hetherington Grant to Stephen Ferry, an American photojournalist, for his project “Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict.” Established in honor of Hetherington, a photojournalist and filmmaker who died this April while covering the war in Libya, the €20,000 grant is given to help a photographer complete an existing project that focuses on human rights issues.

“Violentology” was chosen among a field of 222 applicants from 56 countries. The project examines the history of the guerilla war in Colombia and encompasses a decade of Ferry’s images from the conflict-torn nation. As part of the grant—and in a fitting tribute to Hetherington’s multimedia platforms—Ferry’s project will be shown as an exhibition and book, with selected chapters available for free download as a PDF.

Stephen Ferry is a Colombia-based photojournalist whose work has received numerous honors from World Press and Magnum Foundation among others. See more of his work here and more about “Violentology” here.

Errol Morris on Photography: Believing Is Seeing

In his new book, the filmmaker investigates the mysteries behind some of photography’s most famous news images. Here, Morris walks TIME through five of his fascinating case studies:

TIME: In your first case study, the Crimean cannonball photos (slides 9 and 10), you write about how we can often make certain assumptions about a photographer’s intent that can misdirect us from the truth. How did that play out in these two pictures?

First off I want to say that I don’t think photographs are true or false. I always associate truth and falsity with language, rather than images, photographic and otherwise. People become endlessly confused because they think that some photographs are more true or less true than others, and they get trapped in a strange set of arguments that I believe lead nowhere. If one photograph is more true than another, then you ask yourself, are there things I can do to guarantee the truth of a photograph or to make it more truthful.

Your question was about the intent of a photographer. One of the things that people are most concerned about is the intention to deceive, to trick us, to lead us astray. Well, this pair of photographs, taken in 1855 by Roger Fention, is one of the very first war photographs. A barren landscape bisected by a road littered with cannonballs. The photographs are identical except that in one there are cannonballs on the road and in the other, there are not.

And it leads people to speculate, without even knowing they were speculating, about the order of the photographs, why there are cannonballs on the road in one and not in the other. And I used this as a way to examine our attitudes towards photographs, how we often read things into them things which weren’t there in the first place.

And at one point I even suggest that by thinking about this pair of photographs, we are really examining the nature of photography in general. So I ask a reader to go on an excursion with me. I like to think of them as little mysteries. To try to look at photographs, to try to think about what our assumptions are about them and to accompany me on an investigation into what we’re really looking at.

TIME: In writing about documentary photographs, you say that, in essence, every shot is posed because the photographer always chooses what and what not to include in the frame. I don’t think the average viewer—whether they are seeing a picture in a newspaper or a magazine or a museum exhibition—ever thinks about the fact that each photograph involved a decision of what not to include as much as it did what do include.

Photography is in part how I make my living, and I think about photography and photographs all the time. When you’re creating an image—and most of the images I create are in truth aren’t still images but motion picture images—but when you create an image, I often think about what I’m not including as well as what I am including. Images in part derive their power from the fact that we are excluding so much of the world. They’re focusing our attention in a way they it might not be focused otherwise. I can’t remember my exact wording, but somewhere in the book I talk about how photographs are ripped from the fabric of reality. I like the idea that they are torn out of reality. And we look at them and we don’t see above or below or to the left or to the right, we just see what’s inside the frame. And that’s easy to forget about.

TIME: Something that was apparent to me in your next case study was that sometimes the people who should be skeptical about photographs aren’t. I’m talking about the hooded man photo. The New York Times ran a story that identified a man as the person in that famous photo (slide 8), but it wasn’t him.

It’s probably the iconic photograph of the Iraq war. Photographs become iconic because they resonate with people for all kinds of reasons. And that photograph has been seen by hundreds of millions of people. A number of people said to me, “Well why do you care who’s under the hood? Does it really make any difference? After all, the photograph is not about who’s under the hood, it’s about torture, or it’s about these crimes committed at Abu Ghraib in 2003. Why do you care about the specific details of who it was?” And I would say that I care about both. I care about how photographs are received and viewed by people, but I also really care about their connection to the underlying world. It’s part of the mystery for me. What is it that I’m looking at? Yes, there are well-received beliefs about this photograph, but what really are we looking at? And usually you can’t determine that from just looking at the photograph itself. Usually you have to investigate. Usually you have to look further. And part of what interested me about the Abu Ghraib photographs is that a lot of people were aware of them in this country and abroad, people had views about them, and they made people very very angry for many different reasons, but no one had seemingly bothered to actually try to contextualize them, to try to investigate what it was that we were looking at, as if it was obvious.

And I have an expression that I’m fond of, which is that nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious. It’s usually when we think things are obvious that it’s time to actually look further and to try to look at our underlying assumptions. And by the way, you can investigate and you can come up short. You’re not guaranteed to solve every mystery that you set out to solve. We tried so very very hard to find the guy, the real guy, and came up short.

TIME: With the Sabrina Harmon photos (slides 6 and 7), we first saw them and saw her smiling over this dead body and that smile implied guilt even though it turns out she didn’t do anything—she didn’t abuse the prisoner, she didn’t kill him and she’s not genuinely smiling. But we automatically think that this woman helped beat this guy up and kill him.

We have problems with ambiguity and unresolved mysteries. We also have problems with complexity. Often there’s a need to see people as heroes or as villains rather than in some gray area in between. It’s easier to navigate through life that way. I was criticized for defending Sabrina Harmon. After all, what these bad apples did was terrible. A disgrace. And I am seemingly an apologist for what they did at Abu Ghraib. And I would beg to differ. Take this photograph of Sabrina Harmon and the corpse of Al Jamadi—I was trying to contextualize that image, to put it back into history, and I learned some very surprising things.

In the case of Sabrina. She took a whole range of photographs of that corpse, many of which were to document what she thought was a crime. This man had been beaten to death, presumably by a CIA operative. She had not been involved in any way. She had merely recorded the aftermath of this crime. And she, as indicated in her letters to her girlfriend she felt there was a cover-up going on and that she was going to expose it.

So we look at the photograph and think we’re seeing perhaps a murderer gloating over their crime. And, in fact, what we’re see is something very different.

TIME: At one point, you write the following: “While the technology may have changed, the underlying issues remain constant: When does a photograph document reality? When is it propaganda? When is it art? Can a single photograph be all three? That’s you writing about the Rothstein cow skull photo (slides 1-3). What’s the story there?

The Roosevelt administration had created the FSA, the Farm Security Administration, and they in turn hired photographers who were to become the most famous in history—Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange. These are among the great American photographers of Depression-era America. And they took literally thousands of photographs under the auspices of the government. And Rothstein was sent to the Dakotas to document the drought. And he took a photograph of a cow skull in what looked like to be a close to desert landscape. And this photograph was published in newspapers around the country as an example of how bad the drought had become in the Dakotas.

Well Rothstein did something—you could call it a mistake—he did something that created almost instant controversy when they found out about it. He had moved the cow skull to five or six different locations and photographed it. Now when people became aware there was more than one cow skull photograph and that he had moved them, for artistic purposes is what he argued, he was trying to get a really good shot with the right shadows of the cow skull. Then people say, “Well why that picture and not this one, and what were you doing, were you moving the cow skull? Were you manipulating the photograph to trick people?”

Well here’s the central irony. Here’s one of the ironies. You look at the photographs and you think, ooh, there was a drought. And guess what? There was a drought! Did the fact that he moved the cow skull suddenly invalidate that photograph? Well, you have to know something about the circumstances under which it was taken. And I did try to investigate that issue.

TIME: Finally, let’s talk about these Mickey Mouse in Palestine photos. You have a wire photographer, you have this picture of Mickey outside a bombed out apartment complex in Lebanon (slides 11 and 12). There are questions of agenda, of whether the photographer moved the mouse there, of whether the selection alone implied a bias.

These toy photographs, there was a whole collection of them that came out of Lebanon. And the claim was that pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas photographers are, the way I imagined it, was that they were appearing in the war zone with a big bag of toys and distributing them and taking pictures of them with the intention of misleading people. One way to look at it is that Israelis are killing Palestinian children.

One of the well-known photographs of a toy taken in Lebanon, in southern Lebanon was taken by this Associated Press photographer Ben Curtis. Another irony. That we think we know how that photograph is going to be used, but it was used in just the opposite way in a newspaper than I would have thought, in an anti-Palestinian op-ed. It shows how photographs can, the meaning of them, or what we take to be the meaning of them, can be so easily changed by the context that we place around them, the new story we place around them—the caption that we put under them can change everything.

Believing is Seeing was published by Penguin Press

Gilbert Cruz is a senior editor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @gilbertcruz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.