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Ine Dehandschutter


‘Plato’s Cave’

Bezalel Academy of Fine Arts & Design,

Advanced Studies, 2004

Paper - Ine Dehandschutter

Plato’s Cave

“And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: -
Behold! Human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and
reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks
chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from
turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the
fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the
way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the

I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures
of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them
are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners. Like ourselves, I replied; and
they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the
opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming
what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be
sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the
passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.”

Out of Book VII of Plato's Republic

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Content Table

I. Foreword
II. Introduction
III. How can pictures lie?

Intro. Can pictures lie?

A. Historical evolution of Print and Photography and the rise of the visual

B. Digital era
1) It’s dangers
2) It’s indirect raise of awareness

C. Impact of Media in our perception of the world.

1) Imagebanks
2) Pressure of the capitalisation in media.
3) Commercial
4) Use of the media for personal needs
5) The death of documentary photography

IV. Photographs and their context

a) Internal information
b) Original context
c) External context

V. Conclusion

VI. My works

1) A camera obscura, in which I try to collect several things.

2) A computerwork “White Page” where on a computerscreen a text is
written and erased.
3) “Moonlandscape” consisting out a print of Massada, presented as a
moon, in order to ‘alienate the view’
4) Untitled series.

VII. Bibliography

Thank you.

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I. Foreword.
Plato’s cave is something I read when I was 17, given by a quite interesting teacher.
But his interpretation of it was slight differently from mine.
He was talking about the archetypes, about the metalanguage. Things I would see some
years later in Semiotics, a subject in photography, how to read images.
To me Plato’s cave has a different meaning.
The one on the archetypes might be a very interesting view (how do we decide a chair is a
chair an not a table, and how can we see the differences between different chairs and still
decide it is a chair) but the interpretation where Plato decides that we can live the true
live or one based upon images is far more interesting.

Coming to Israel might have been a strange decision, I guess I made more of these strange
decisions before.
To me it convinced me of what I knew before, the world is not like we think it is.

In Belgium people wonder how I can live in a country like this.

Their vision is based upon what they know, what they see: their ‘Plato’s cave’
Because nothing what is in their head will ressemble what I see here.

The problem puts a new problem.

As a photographer I frame, it is not always about what I show, it is also about what I don’t
As I see reality here, my pictures will only be able to show a fragment of that, and even
then the viewer own interpretation will make his idea.

To me the decision I made once to be a documentary photographer is doubted every day.

Do pictures still matter?
Something has changed, especially these last years, where digital photography has been
commercialized and the image became so important and yet so futile.

Do we get touched when we see craving children in Africa?

Do we get still moved?

The images of 9/11 will stay burned in our eyes forever. But why those and not others?

A research...

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II. Introduction.
“…(…) There arose a universal consciousness of history that extended even to people in
those strata of society who had previously lived a life of magic - the peasants - who [with
the introduction of cheap printing and a universal education in the 19th Century] began to
live a proletarian, historical life. This took place thanks to cheap texts: Books,
newspapers, flyers, all kinds of texts became cheap and resulted in a historical
consciousness that was equally cheap and a conceptual thinking that was equally cheap -
leading to two diametrically opposite developments. On one hand, traditional images
finding refuge from the inflation of texts in ghettos, such as museums, salons and galleries
became hermetic (universally undecodable) and lost their influence on daily life. On the
other hand, there came into being hermetic texts aimed at the specialist élite, i.e. a
scientific literature with which cheap kind of conceptual thinking was not competent to
deal. Thus culture divided into three branches: that of the fine arts fed with traditional
images which were, however, conceptually and technically enriched; that of science and
technology fed with hermetic texts; and that of broad strata of society fed with cheap
texts. To prevent culture breaking up, technical images were invented - as a code that was
to be valid for the whole society.”1
“Technical Images” are images created by machines, of course, many are camera
generated photographs, the images that work as a very nice “glue” across groups of culture
feeding on various accessible (popular) or less accessible (hermetic) texts… complex
cultural ideas feed photography as successfully as science as successfully as political
messages as successfully as low end down dirty gossip (though often there is no strong
distinction between some of them, of course). Photography is the universally accepted way
of objective visual communication.

Flusser continues: “…technical images were to introduce images back into daily life;
second they were to make hermetic texts comprehensible; and third, they were to make
visible the subliminal magic that was continuing to operate in cheap texts. They were to
form the lowest common denominator for art, science and politics (in the sense of
universal values), i.e. to be at one at the same time ‘beautiful’, ‘true’ and ‘good’, and in
this way, as a universally valid code, they were to overcome the crisis of culture - of art,
science and politics.”

Yet, photography is not only cheap to produce, it is becoming cheaper and faster to
produce. It is becoming more and more accessible, thus saturating more and more all of the
branches of culture. Photographs are no longer only the perfect filler, the perfect
validating document, the perfect illustration, the perfect memory builder, because they
appear to be so similar to what we perceive as our reality.
Since the beginning of photography the image produced by machines resembled and was
identified as reality, since what was in the image, also had to have been in front of the lens
in reality.
Images give us the illusion to be carriers of that thing called “truth”, and although this
illusion has been proven wrong, still the image tempts us to believe.

“Technical images absorb the whole of history and form a collective memory going
endlessly round in circles.
Nothing can resist the force of this current of technical images - there is no artistic,
scientific or political activity, which is not aimed at it, there is no everyday activity,
which does not aspire to be photographed, filmed, videotaped. For there is a general
desire to be endlessly remembered and endlessly repeatable. All events are nowadays
aimed at the television screen, the cinema screen, the photograph, in order to be
translated into a state of things.”

Flusser in “Towards a philosophy of Photography” (Für eine Philosophie der Fotografie.), pages 18ff, Reaction
Books ISBN 1 86189 076 1.

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How does it come we tend to believe the magic of ‘truth’ carried on the surfaces of
photographs, although we ought to know it is just a subjective creation as many other
forms of human expression.
(Instead of:
How long will it take for us to realize that what we perceive as the magic of truth carried is as much
of a subjective creation as many other forms of human expression?)

When will our mind not longer be triggered by the ‘truth’ of images, but realize that
photographs as well are very highly manipulated messengers of a point of view of a person
or a group?
Are we turning into not just consumers but worshippers of technical images? Will the future
be decided by those who can speak to us with more “truthful” and more powerful visual
confirmations of their actions?
Or are at this stage already? Are we far beyond?

This paper wants to be a short research on the matter.

It scrolls fast through the evolution of photography since its existence in the 19th century,
touching the important inventions that introduces images in our world ending up in the
digital era of today. During this short scrolling, I tend not to go into the ‘History of
Photography’ as such, not mentioning all the important photographers, nor the different
styles. If I would, I would have to write a paper of some hundreds of pages. On top of that,
more than enough books exist to document the different styles and I advise ‘Photography
of the 20th Century’ to those who want to know more about different photographers.
I also not touch the ‘art’ aspect of photography.
I prefer to go more into detail about the recent evolutions, and the information behind the
scenes, focussing on the digital revolution and on the institutes behind the photographer
(press agencies, news sources, etc.)
According to me, they are more relevant to find an answer on the question how our view on
the world is created. It is only when one realizes this, that he can start to interpret the
After that inquiry, I shift to a summary of Terry Barrett’s “Criticizing Photographs”, a
technique which explains different criteria how to look to pictures in order to understand
Finally I translate the research into my works, which have everything to do with the
questions asked.

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III. How can pictures lie?

Can pictures lie?

Since the beginning of photography this question is always one of the thoughts, the
philosophical discussions of any photographer.
One of the reasons why in court pictures are not used as a direct proof, will be surely
because a picture can lie.
During the existence of photography, every picture is just an image of reality, and any
image can lie, without a real context.
Photo collages have been existing since the very first beginning, but doing it has always
been an real difficult task to do. Magic in the darkroom.

In the beginning of the eighties a new question was added: the digital adjustments of
In 1982, the respected National Geographic attracted controversy by moving one of Egypt's
great pyramids.

Through the magic of computer-generated digital imaging, the pyramid moved, not in
space, but on the Geographic's cover, where its apex was electronically shifted to make it
into the magazine's yellow cover frame.

The image created could never have been achieved through any lens.
A reader complained, New York Times reported and the discussion was

Wilbur Garret, the Geographic’s Editor, defended the magazine by posing

some other questions: How much did the use of a telephoto lens move the
pyramids? How much did the color change because of a filter? Were the
camels there naturally or were they brought there for a picture?

Garrett's point -that reporting and photojournalism have always created their own views of
reality- doesn't eliminate the radical shift digital image processing computers have made in
the reality of today's news photography. Indeed, their almost magical abilities -to create
effects, to correct mistakes and to save money- are fast making the machines indispensable
in post-production shops.

The discussion went on, and other magazines made use of the easy digital adjustments.
Time magazine printed O.J Simpson on their cover, unfortunately Newsweek did exactly
the same. The difference? On Time, O.J. looked 4 gradations darker.

National Geographic Cover, 1982
Newsweek and Time Covers

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The discussion got to unknown heights and several magazines made the decision to make a
ethical statement in the use of images.

Recently the embedded journalism is introduced. Whereas before this would have been
called propaganda, now people give it a turn, a nicer name, handle more subtile.
Which results in a certain perception of the viewer.
The viewer can only react to what he knows and what he is teached.

This needs explanation from different sides.

First of all there is the historical evolution of photography, and its embedding in its cultural
Next to that we recently came into a digital era where manipulating images became much
more easy than before.
Last but not least, there is the impact of the media in our perception of images, in our idea
of reality.
The last one is the most important evolution, but the first two have to be explained to
understand the last one.

A) Historical evolution of Print and Photography and the rise of the visual

For a long time -- at least six decades -- photographs have laid down the tracks of how
important conflicts are judged and remembered. The Western memory museum is now
mostly a visual one. Photographs have an insuperable power to determine what we recall
of events4

The invention of photography in the thirties of the 19th century was the result of its time.
Research, scientific development, and machines made this era the one of reflection.
The coming of the camera was the ultimate tool of reflection. What was done before by the
person himself, now was to be shown by an external tool.
This way the perspective changed.
The camera became a synonym for objective view.

“What takes places from arround 1810 to 1840 is an uprooting of vision from the stable
and fixed relations incarnated in the camera obscura. If the camera obscura, as a concept,
subsisted as an objective ground of visual truth, a variety of discourses and practices –in
phylosophy, science, and in procedures of social normalisation- tend to abolish the
foundations of that ground in the early nineteenth century. In a sense, what occurs is a
new valuation of visual experience: it is given an unprecendented mobility and
exchangebility, abstracted from any founding site or referent.”5

And just like many inventions of that time, it was an object of research.
The result of the camera, the pictures, were soon a gadget in wealthy society.
Stereography, photography, the kaleidoscope and many other optical tools were toys to the
rich. Next to that all these objects meant much more to the researchers of those days.
Reflections on how the eye worked, and how people regarded the world were made.

“Regarding the Torture of Others”, Susan Sonntag, May 23 2004, The New York TImes
“Techniques of the Observer: on vision and modernity in the nineteenth century”, Jonathan Crary, 1990, second
printing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, p14

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“Vision, rather than a privileged form of knowing, becomes itself an object of knowledge,
of observation. From the beginning of the nineteenth century a science of vision will tend
to increasingly an interrogation of the physiological makeup of the human subject, rather
than the mechanics of light and optical transmission. It is a moment when the visible
escapes from the timeless order of the camera obscura and becomes lodged in another
apparatus, within the unstable physiology and temporality of the human body.”6

Photography evoluted into a classification system, which allowed to make an inventory of

the world as it was.
The first photographers were mainly busy with this inventory.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century, many (American) photographers got

assignments by the Farm Security Administration.

Margaret Cameron was one of them.

Walker Evans7 was aswell one of those that tried to classify.
But next to classification, and pictures that are known as documents of the Great
Depression, the images show a sociological observation.

Through time photography developed, better films were made, faster shutterspeed ot be
used, allowing to picture people in a less posing way.

The development of newspapers in the whole Western world were a fact and techniques to
implement pictures were found.

The founding of Time Magazine in 1937 was one of a series of magazines that would try to
show the world as it was. Social photography was introduced.
And with the new press techniques, the importance of images steadily grew.

This importance became even more in the picture by the invention of the television.

“Techniques of the Observer: on vision and modernity in the nineteenth century”, Jonathan Crary, 1990, second
printing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, p70
The images shown are his, taken during his work for the Farm Security Administration.

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The little box would find its place in every living room, and infect us with an enormous

A flow that would not stop.

Our memories of history are now images of what we saw in newspapers and on television,
like Sonntag stated. All great events, conflicts, happenings are captured in our head in one
or another image.
From the first man on the moon, the image of the burning child in Vietnam, the events in
Tien A Men, the Palestinian conflict, till two towers falling down.
Even our own history is one of photoalbums, of images to grab to to remember.

But unlike our own history the world’s is more to be interpret, because in a larger view.
Since the nineties, something significant changed. Something which might be called
another significant shift in the make up of vision.

The liberalisation of the digital tools opened up even more what is already so accessible.

Info: clockwise from the left upper corner:
- July 20, 1969 The Apollo 11 landed on the moon's surface.
- June 8, 1972. A napalm bombing in Vietnam
- September 30, 2000 A 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, is pinned down in crossfire between Arab
snipers and Israeli Defense Forces.
- June 4, 1989. Tien A Men Square, a protester stops a tank. The peaceful protest later escalates with the known

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B) Digital era

In the eighties an important shift in image adjustment was achieved: with better and
better computers, more and more things got digitalized. The manual cutting and pasting
with video, could now happen in the computer, and the arranging/retouch of pictures
didn’t need a manual hand anymore, a computerprogram and a good computer were
enough. Those days, computer were expensive, and programs hard to get and to learn. The
computer was preserved for professionals.

In the ninetees things became different: most programs got adjusted to the amateur. (with
in particular a reference to programs like iPhoto, iMovie for Apple)
Simple retouche of the pictures now could be done by anyone with a little knowledge of
Next to that the internet was introduced and communities to share were made.
The liberalisation of the digital world started.

The camera which was mostly used intensively by photographers to report and less by
occasional users to capture memories in family life, is now more and more a daily tool.
The costs are reduced to the buy, and its integration in all kinds of things (from spy cams,
to PDA’s to mobile phones) make it much more easy to picture the world.
More then memoriies, everything gets captured.
From the garbage bin in the street, the graffiti on the walls, the little brother in the chair,
to the torturing of prisoners in Iraq.

It is no longer the photojournalist who captures the facts, the amateur does it aswell.
On every single event, somewhere a digital camera pops up. In a much more frequent base
that it used to be the case with analogue camera’s.
Numbers in sales proove it. The sales of digital camera’s grew exponentional.

• (Global Digital Camera Production9

– 2002 growth rate: 60%
– 2003 growth rate: 76%
– 2004 slower growth: 20% = 57 million unites
• Continents Growth10
– 2003 camera shipment to Europe doubled to 2002
– 2003 growth slowed to a 30% increase in Japan
– 2004 growth will decelerate this year in US
• Proof Points Digital Camera Boom11
– Top 8 vendors completely focus on digital camera
• Increased investment in product development & marketing
– Overwhelmed Customer Satisfaction

Digital images are being shared over the web. Huge communities share and show their
world. Comments included.
An immense database of pictures is being showed, and its diversity makes us doubt the
world we think to know.

Source – NE Asia Online
Source – CIPA
Source – Future Image

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The conflict in Iraq was shown in different ways.

Embedded journalists, journalist being guided by the Iraqi security services, and suddenly
in the middle of that, the simple stories of an Iraqi citizen. A different story, with critiques
to both sides, and clear pictures, showing real life.12
Suddenly the simple man became the resource of valuable information, and was equal, or
sometimes even more important than what the real journalists had to tell.

The pictures of the abuse of prisoners that are spread over the web, raised a huge protest
and changed the opinion on the war.
While Susan Sonntag writes about the meaning of the ‘torture’pictures in Iraq, I want to
accentuate the fact that she is ‘writing’ about it, she and many others.
Those pictures got the attention, became news.

The visual-society we are living now has everything to do with the digital revolution of the
last decades. It takes only seconds to be visually in another part of the world.
More easily produced, transferred and spread around the world, the image is what we eat.

1) It’s dangers

As mentioned above, the digital era is its full development.

I shortly want to recapitulate some dangers:

-The easily changing, alternating of the pictures is now available for everybody13. You don’t
have to be a genius anymore to change anything in a picture.
Little is thought about the danger of altering pictures, and of the consequences.
A good example of this is: Brian Walski14 or the O.J Simpson example from before.
Sometimes the changes are meant to be harmful.
-An overdosis of images because of the availability of cameras and the low cost to take the
pictures, which results in an overdosis of information in which the viewer doesn’t recognize
the importance anymore. The image becomes more and more anonymous, and we can’t
track it or its origin down.
Here I want to refer to 2 recent events.

The picture of Bush sitting in a kindergarten and reading a newspaper

upside down. The image was altered or fun to present in humor-sites,
but yet many people might not know about it. (Referred to in Michael
Moores movie)

The second series of pictures with the Iraqi prisoners, where the Daily
Mirror showed pictures that later turned out to be ‘fake’, the chief
editor resigned, and a correction was made in the paper. These are
only some examples where the error was found, in many other cases,
these errors are not found. A similar story happened with Brian Walski,
who was fired at LA Times after they found out he had altered

(A year ago I found in the magazine of Haaretz a picture that triggered my vision. It was an
image of the house-demolishing in Jenin. Suddenly I found out what was wrong: they had
mirrored the picture and erased one person –so it would not be doubled- in order to create

Dear Raed, a weblog of an Iraqi intellectual tells the stories of daily Bagdad life.
Through easy programs and more available digital camera’s even the most starting amateur can change images.
Read more about it here:
Brian Walski has been dismissed from the LA Times because of this adjustment. A dicussion is opened, according
to the opponents this is not allowed, according to the others the CONTENT of the image he sent in, was not
altered in it's essence, even though he combined two consecutive images (images and the LA Times statement
below). More can be read at

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a panoramic view on the scene. Only, now the scene was not longer a mirror of reality. A
new image was created, doubling the effect of the demolishing, giving a more dramatic
impression of the facts.)

© Brian Walski, the original pictures

© Brian Walski, the result, which was presented in LA Times, and for wich reason the photographer
was dismissed.

2) It’s indirect raise of awareness

With the invention of photography first and film later the claim of perspective to be reality
became less convincing, and new concepts for the constitution of reality were created. One
main point then was the actuality of the image: what could be photographed or filmed
must have been in front of the camera lens. In this sense the image was dialectical,
because it sets up a relationship between the present viewer and the past moments of
space or time that were represented.

But with the creation of digital imagery also the relationship between observer and
observed has changed. There is no longer any necessary or logical connection between a
virtual image and exterior reality.

Basically, the truth of what we see is no longer given by our eyes but by our instruments
and their interpretation or appropriation. There is no longer any visual carrier material at
all, any digital information can be put down and described by algorithms.

So the notion of the world-picture can no longer stand for the changing situation. Today
visual culture has to deal with a fragmented view and complex pictures, which are not
created from one medium or in one place. The attention is drawn from structured and
formal viewing settings to the visual experience of everyday life, which has to deal with

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global circulation and accumulation of images and therefore signs. The new configurations
of the global and local come via images and these are by no means simple or one-
dimensional. Rather, as Gramsci noted of the national-popular, it is an ambiguous,
contradictory and multi-form concept.

In short seeing is not believing but interpreting.

Today every image has to be seen in its context and has to be doubted.
Visual images succeed or fail according to the extent that we can interpret them
With the images driven from digital data today it seem obvious that they are mere
representations and not depicting something real in themselves.
Years before G.Debord wrote: In societies where modern conditions of production prevail,
all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was
directly lived has moved away into a representation.

C) Impact of Media in our perception of the world.

As internet might change definitely our view on the world, media plays an important role in
our perception of the world. Whereas in the internet we are the one to make the choices in
what to select as important and not, the media does it for us, and in that way, forms our
vision on the world.
Who are the important players? Who/what defines our worldvision?
Here are some important ones summed up.

1) Imagebanks
More and more images in newspapers and magazines are coming from the so called
imagebanks. is one of the biggest, owned by Microsoft.
Big pressagencies like Reuters and AP do the same but with news-related pictures.
The digital era has made photography a life-show, where images are taken and
instantly uploaded to the net. Between the event and the distributed image the
time has diminished, and newspapers rather select all those instant pictures than
sending their own photographers.
An image is based upon its original context.
This context is minimized by the process of imagebanks.
No longer the image is main object, in many cases the images is an illustration of
the writers thoughts. A writer that is not necessarily on the scene. The writer is
very often writing the article on the other side of the world, based upon reuters-
fax or other news-channels.
When we take a closer view to the press agencies, we see mainly Reuters, AP and
An other important development is the film news services, with BBC World, CNN,
ABC and NBC, distibuting news to the world.
Shortly said it means that many of the news articles all over the world are based
upon the same sources.

Contructing articles and images this way, implements the building of archetypes.
When writing an article on ‘women in jail’ very often the writer will choose a
picture of a woman behind bars, probably hands in the hair.
The typical idea we have in our mind.
The image would probably be totally different when a photographer gets the task
of taking a picture instead of a writer that chooses a picture that fits the article.
We can refer to the image of Doisneau (see in the next chapter), to see how far
away the original context was from the one given in the article on prostitution near

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2) Pressure of the capitalisation in media.

There is a general tendency to evaluate more and more according to watch
numbers, the voice of the reader, the importance of selling. Many television shows
are being tested in front of a test audience, newspapers get marketing researches.
More and more the content is adapted to what the reader/viewer wants, adjusted
to the average reader/viewer.
In several channels the amount of qualitative programs are taken down in favour of
more popular formats, with mostly lighter content.
Newspapers tend to give more attention to minor events, and get less into real
researches, due to a lack of good funds. (In one of the newspapers I work for on
rare occasions, the budget for their own photographers was spent already in the
first half of the year, resulting in the fact that they were not allowed to buy
external documentaries anymore. This is a newspaper that still has photographers
in duty, many others work only with freelancers)
Result of that is that there is less and less money provided for real research, or for
profound documentaries. In many cases they grab back to the
imagebanks/pressagencies as a cheaper alternative.

Also there is the monopoly of the big agencies. Big agencies with more money,
provide their reporters with good equipment and better opportunities.
(See the recent Gulfwar, where the big agencies had their own offices,
satellitephones, pocketmoney to pay the drivers, etc.)
The ‘business’ of media has consequences. The freelancer has to go into difficult
situations, risking more to get the pictures he/she want, and paying more because
the big agencies drove up the prices of everything.
These pictures also tend to arrive later in circulation and thus more difficult to sell,
since the big agencies, with high technical equipment, already spread theirs
through the worldchannels.
Very often it is exactly this freelancer that tends to go more into the details,
making less commercial pictures.
Harrisons’ Flowers15, a fiction movie with on the foreplan a lovestory, plays in the
midst of the Balkan war and shows part of these problematics.

3) Commercial

Everything in the marketing media

is based upon images. TV
commercials, magazines.
Advertisements are creating a
certain view of the ideal world.
Again stereotypes are accentuated.
The perfect washing powder is
shown by the perfect woman,
mostly beautiful, a mother and nice
house-wife, the house she lives in is
very often a villa with a garden.
The perfect world is a western
world, with white children, perfect clothes, two cars, beautiful house with garden.
The impact of these images are indirect and stimulate us to follow them up.

Harrison’s Flowers, by Elie Chouraqui, 2002,

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4) Use of the media for personal needs

The power of images gets more and more important, and politicians play the game.

The most important newsmaker in the world is the White House. In the study of
“Age of Propaganda – The everyday use and abuse of persuasion” Anthony
Pratgkanis and Elliot Aronson refer to politicological research stating that the
American presidents give about one speech a day. Many of those speeches are
generated in this way that they get the news.
‘By talking about certain things and get the evening news, the president can
create a political agenda – an image of the world that serves his/her politics’

The second big newsmaker is the State Department, the American ministery of
Foreign Affairs. Every noon the State-department gives a briefing.

The third in row is the Pentagon, the American ministery of Defense.

The influence on the American and Western opionion is huge, especially in times of
war and peace, who is a threat for who and why.
During the eighties, under Reagan’s presidency, the Pentagon published a ‘fact
book’ about the Soviet Military Power, that was adapted each year, and distributed
freely. It was ‘the’ resource book for Western politicians and journalists.
Tom Gervasi, a specialist in weapons, looked it over and published his own version
of the book. His conclusion was that on each page there were profound changes, in
comparisons, in terms and in categorisation.
After the Cold War, it became clear that he had been right the whole time: the
Sovjet army never was the ‘huge fighting machine’ as stated in the fact book.17

During the recent Gulf war the importance of the media was something the
Americans used in a very particular way.
For the first time ‘embedded journalism’ was accepted, but the journalists had to
sign papers in which they obeyed the rules.
An press information center from the Ministery of Defense was created in Quwait,
and every day there was an update of the situation, reported by all journalists.

David Simpson states:

“The war18 has been about the control of images as well as of oilfields and
territories. Al-Jazeera's broadcasts from Iraq have been threatened and often pre-
empted by the US armed forces.
The captured Saddam Hussein, briefly fixed in the bright lights of international
media attention, has more or less vanished from sight. Some images, like those of
the planes hitting the towers, are shown over and over again. Others, like those of
people jumping or falling from great heights onto the streets below, have been
removed from circulation. It is not news that all images are subject to both direct
and self-imposed political and ideological control. Private Jessica Lynch, who had
the independence of mind to resent the falsifications of her captivity narrative for
propaganda purposes and the courage to say so, has also quietly disappeared from
major-media sight.”19

As he goes on: “Now we live in a world of largely incommensurate images, some

seen on one continent and others in the rest of the world. The tendency to
political isolationism is reinforced and perhaps significantly enabled by an
aesthetic isolationism that allows the debate about images of our dead to seem
like the only debate to be had”

That the images are not used only by the Americans is a fact. Everybody plays the
game, and also the ‘opposite party’ realized the power of it. The release of the

information gathered out of Jaap van Ginniken, “De schepping van de wereld in het nieuws”, 1996,
Houten/Diegem (Creation of the world in the news)
He is talking about the last Gulf war, started in 2003
David Simpson, “The Mourning Paper”, an essay that circulates on the web.

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movie of the beheading of an American prisoner in Iraq is cruel but got world
The repetition of bombings in Iraq and in Israel don’t make ‘big amounts’ of
deaths, but its shocking manner, make them catch the news every time.
These bombings keep the underlying subject (the political situation in that country)
in the spotlight (Compare it with the terrible situation in Africa, concerning the
HIV, that kills more people everyday, a situation that doesn’t get press attention in
the news.)
Some state that terrorism is a creation of the media. Terrorists use the effect of
shock to track the attention and put a light on their ideas. Since its nature, media
will give prime time to these events and thus feed the terrorists with what they
wanted: world attention and influence the opinion of the viewer.
Think of the recent beheading of the Korean, which resulted in mass
demonstrations in the streets of Korea, condemning the governments decision to
send more troops to Iraq.


5) The death of documentary photography

A cry to save the documentary photography is heard in several places.

Some extracts:

The decisive shift now is however to digital. Why pay a photographer when you can
give your reporter a digital camera? Why send a photographer across the world to
take pictures when you can contact someone already there and they can send you
digital images by satellite or Internet within minutes? If photojournalists are going
to survive they need to come to terms with the new technology and use it not only
to make and deliver their work, but also to publicise it. At the moment few
working professionals seem to have fully grasped this challenge.21

On the entry level of photojournalism, there are far more photographers pursuing
fewer jobs than ever before. The result is that salaries and fees are held at bare
subsistence levels. The picture gets gloomier as the would-be photojournalist tries
to climb to the next level. Those lucky few who hold full time jobs in
photojournalism are clinging to them. Younger photographers are being shuttled
from publication to publication without any appreciable increase in earning power.
It is the time of the eternal intern.
On the higher level of magazine photojournalism, powerful forces have been
arrayed against the photographer. Editorial departments no longer have final say
over budgets, but must bend to the will of the publishers and lawyers. Rights grabs
are commonplace. Fear and dissatisfaction stalks the halls of formerly proud
editorial institutions.
So, there is the case for "the end of photojournalism as we know It. 22

Images found on the internet, from left to right:
-9/11 (2000), the capture of Saddam (2003), the beheading of Nick Berg (2004)
Extract out of ‘The Death of photojournalism’, by Peter Marshall,
Revisiting the Death of Photojournalism’ by Dirck Halstead

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IV. Photographs and their context

Images even when diversified mostly do not, however, speak for themselves.
So to understand images one should be aware of the things to pay attention to.
And learn how to evaluate a picture, how to read its context.
In order to understand a photo, we should have access to some basic information.
Who made it, where, when, how and for what purpose?
This kind of information is contextual information which can be either internal, original or

a) Internal information

Some photographs are understandable by just looking at them and thinking about them, we
understand what we see on the picture because it is somehow familiar to us.
If we are familiar with the culture the photograph is made in, we don’t need to know much
of the origin the photograph was made in order to understand it.


A very clear example is Weston’s Peppers series.

We can see in the picture that the pepper has a form, a shape, a
texture. Weston is busy making an image accentuating these things
turning this object is something aesthetic and beautiful.
But next to that we cannot imagine of a other meaning.

b) Original context

Not all the photographs we see can be understood on basis of what they show, because we
are not familiar with all cultures. Many photographs are inscrutable without some
information beyond what can be gathered by just looking at the picture.

Photographs made for the press also benefit from, and often depend on, knowledge of the
contexts of which they merge.
In 1973 Huynh Cong ‘Nick’ Ut made a horrifying photograph that shows children, crying and
screaming, and soldiers, fleeing with smoke behind them, running on a country road
toward us.
The children are obviously traumatized. A young girl in the center of the frame is naked.
Because of the evident pain of the children, this is a horrifying image. It is all the more
horrifying when one knows that the children just have been sprayed with napalm from a
jet above and that the girl is naked because she tore off her clothes trying to remove the
burning jelly from herself. They were bombed by mistake. Although they were on the
same side in a war, the pilot mistook the group as the enemy. The photograph itself
reveals little. It is knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the making of the making
of the photograph that makes it more than a picture of traumatized children. The
photograph has been credited with helping to stop American involvement in the Vietnam

Sometimes it is useful to imagine the original situation the photographer took the picture
in, to see what the photographer has done in order to make the picture, what he included,
maybe excluded and why. Consider the temporal element.
Knowledge of a photograph’s original context included knowledge of that which was
psychological present to the photographer at the time the exposure was made. We need to
consider some social information about the photographer, in which social times he/she
made it, his/her intent, the times he/she lived in, the political and cultural environment.

As handled in “Techniques of the Observer: on vision and modernity in the nineteenth century”, Jonathan Crary,
1990, second printing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Edward Weston “Pepper“, 1930
Terry Barrett, “Criticizing Photographs”, (Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000, 2nd edition) p.88

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Much of the effect of Ut’s photograph depended on the knowledge of Vietnam, the war and

c) External context

External context can be defined as the situation in which a photograph is presented or

Every photograph is found in a certain external context: in books, newspapers, galleries,
It’s meaning mostly highly depends upon its presentation.
A perfect example of this is Robert Doisneau’s picture ‘At the café’ which first was found in
an article on cafes and it illustrated the topic, later it was found in a brochure on the evils
of alcohol (Doisneau didn’t know about this publication, the photograph was sold by his
agent.26 ) And in a third situation it appeared with the caption ‘Prostitution in the Champs-
The portrayed sued the tabloid, the agency and Doisneau for this. The court fined the
tabloid and the agency, but declared the photographer not guilty.
Today the picture is hanging in the MOMA in NYC, matted and framed under glass, with a
simple caption, mention the name, the date, the material.

In the first 3 cases the external environment overrode the real content of the photograph
and changed its meaning. Even in the 4th case, where the picture is hanging in the museum,
the content is defined by its environment. This can be called the power of external

See chapter on the influence of image banks in the creating of stereotypes.

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V. Conclusion

This kind of knowledge seems to be the truest, the most authentic, for has the
object before itself in an entirety and completeness. This bare fact of certainty,
however, is real and admittedly the abstractest and poorest kind of truth.
-G.W.F. Hegger

The duality content-context in images, the subject of my research, did get an answer in a
There is some basic info we can get out of a picture and according to the viewer the image
gets an interpretation.
This interpretation is highly based upon the context that is given to the picture.
An image needs in many cases extra information to be understood.

The meaning of a photograph can be easily altered, especially by changing captions or

adding other text.
Photographs are relatively undefined in meaning, and thus we can not underestimate the
value of the captions.
The meaning of a photograph heavily depends on its presentation, and situation.
Roland Barthes defined this as ‘channel of transmission’:
“As for the channel of transmission, this is the newspaper itself, or more precisely, a
complex of concurrent messages with the photograph as the center and surrounds
constituted by the text, the caption, the lay-out and, in a more abstract but in no less
informative way, by the very name of the paper (this name represents a knowledge that
can heavily orientate the reading of the message strictly speaking: a photograph can
change its meaning as it passes from the very conservative L’Aurore to the communist

This meaning is something what we don’t get in school.

We might learn English, French, Spanish, and many other languages, the language of the
image is something that is preserved for art students and scholars.
It could be of great help though to give such classes in high school. To explain the what and
why behind an image. Teach people how to interpret the world as it is shown to them in
the media.

But there is something changing from within.

In the evolving internet world, the information multiplies every 10 years.
We are no longer checking only one source when many sources are available.
More and more people start to base their ideas upon different sources.
What does CNN tell me, what does Al Jazeera says?

When, back in 1999, I chatted for the first time, and my chatting partner changed 5 times,
name and gender in as many minutes, I realized that nothing in this world can be perceived
as truthfuly without being questioned first.

I am not the only one being confronted with this fact

I hope that more and more people start to ask the question:
What is real and what is not?

The polarisation in the media (//CNN versus Al Jazeera) is only improving this evolution and
makes us grab even more to alternate news sources. Sources that more and more are to be
found on the web.
The example of ‘Back to Iraq 3.0’ is such a newssource.

Roland Barthes, “The Photographic Message”, in Image-Music-Text, ed. Barthes (New York, Hill & Wang, 1977),

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Christopher Allbritton28 launched, published and edited in the fall of 2002 his own
publication, Back to Iraq (, a Web site focusing on the war with
Iraq. Combining 13 years of experience with personal travels and reporting in the region, he
built a loyal following of more than 1 million readers  to date who contributed more than
US$14,000 to send him to cover the war in Iraq with no back-up, no bulletproof vest and no
embedding—just pure, individual journalism using a laptop and a satellite phone. After a
month in-country—and a daily readership of almost 25,000 at the peak—he returned to
begin work on a book.

I believe that in the future these newssources will gain more importance, the journalist will
not longer be an unknown person, but turns into a person.
This personalisation is important, because it will be the main hold on to the truth.
Whereas we get lost in a web of information, not knowing what is true and what not, or
what the sources are, this hold on to a person, from which you seem to know something,
will become your reference, and you are no longer ready to beleive what the traditional
media is telling you through their system of telexes.

As I am writing this, the first bloggers are allowed to offically be part of the Democratic
National Convention hold in USA. Many journalists are surprised, but slowly the blogging
world with its implications is becoming another standard in the internet and media world.
What is today a still no more than a strange word, will be common knowledge in short time.
A database of information is being written on personal blogs and as much pictures are being
posted on as many blogs.
Some of them truthfully, others totally fiction.
Knowledge on subjects is no longer based upon what the news tells, but also on what
google can give you on the subject, very often referring to blogs.
Other linkages, made into the blogging or found through searchengines gives us more info
on the matter, widening our view.

Recent numbers and researches tell us that people look on the web for news29.
This knowledge might change the perception of news and images totally.
The internet is a source of news, and a new way of journalism will develop here.
Also photojournalism: When I speak of photojournalism as being dead, I am talking only
about the concept of capturing a single image on a nitrate film plane, for publication in
mass media. In the near future, visual stories will be told primarily through moving images
and sound, on both on television and the web. The web will increasingly replace printed
media. However, the role of the storyteller who can capture the events and people of our
time, and place them in perspective for our history, will only be enhanced.30

It will be a daring mission, since the longer, the more information, the harder it gets to be
able to make the differentiation between truth and lie.

Freelance journalist, New York, N.Y., wrote for popular magazines, newspapers and Web sites, including The
New York Times,, Wired Digital,, …
According to Harris Interactive 45% of the surfers was looking information on the website of a newspaper, 37% on
an online information service
86% of US blog readers declare that blogs are a useful source of news or opinions they can't find elsewhere, and
most believe that blogs feature a better perspective, faster news and more honesty than traditional media.
Revisiting the Death of Photojournalism’ by Dirck Halstead

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VI. My works
All my works showing, return to what was explained above.
I am trying to allude to this ‘images can lie, information is empty’ idea.
Question it.

5) A camera obscura, in which I try to collect several things.

–An image of reality gets projected on a wall. What we see is not reality anymore. It is
different in all its forms.
-the image is upside down due to optical conditions. For me it is showing the upside
world here.
-People have to go into the room and watch it, like they are watching television, which
is referring to our television-society and the live lived in a televisionscreen. (Plato’s
-The image is the reflection of the outside view of my studio, referring to ‘my view’ on
-The image is doubled, through 2 lenses, which makes the image different from the
reality outside, what we see on the wall can never be the reality.

My camera obscura shows on the one side a familiar view, an ordinary view out of my
studio window.
On the other hand by turning it upside down, I try to point to the fact that something is
This so called normal world is not normal.
This image could be taken everywhere. Doesn’t necessary have to be made in this
specific country.
It is a reaction to what I call the power of the media.
We have a certain idea, but reality is different

The technique for sure is not a difficult one, and the idea of a camera obscura is not
For me using this form is just a solution to what I want to show.
And meanwhile asking a question: ‘Did you wonder about the reality behind the image?’

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6) A computerwork “White Page” where on a computerscreen a text is

written and
While living here many people asked me my idea. This work is an answer on that.
The works consists out of a text that appears. It seems that somebody is writing it on
the computer, but the writer is not there. The visitor will watch it appear, and have to
keep on watching to be able to see it all. Somehow, the viewer gets into the personal
life of the writer.
It is a work on the era of this time. People love to sneak into others life. They rather do
this than living it themselves. They watch it in television (Big Brother,
AdventureIsland,..) and through the web in the daily journals (blogs)
We are all ‘voyeurs’, sneaking into others life, curiuous and eager to know.
In the end the text asks a question, but doesn’t say anything. The viewer didn’t get any
knowledge except the question that can make him think. And the fact that he intruded
a personal world.
The answer doesn’t come.

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3) “Moonlandscape” consisting out a print of Massada, presented as a moon, in

order to ‘alienate the view’
Presenting the pictures as a moon or a planet as as main reason to show something
familiar in another context.
Massada is a story to the jewish people, an icon.
You can’t mention Massada without raising the thought of this history.
By presenting the image as a moon, I try to disconnect the simple view from its historic
I try to turn it into a view again.
I mislead the viewer, pretending it is a moon. And when letting him closer, overview
the image, show little details, and undo the idea that it is a moon.

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4) Untitled series.
Are images empty? If I show these images what do they tell?
Which information one can get out of them?
If I add a caption to them, does the interpretation change?
Does the meaning change?
The only reference to the reality is the title and the capture of the work.
(Here I am referring to the importance of captures in images.)

‘Untitled’, Gaza city, 2004

‘Untitled’, Gaza Airport, 2004

Image: ‘Untitled’, Gaza Airport, 2004, handled as mentioned in chapter IV.

The internal info: A landscape existing of a broken up ground, seemingly highway, tarmac.

Original context: This picture is taken in Gaza Airport, in February 2004.

The historical context can tell us that the second intifada is still busy. The photographer has been
working mainly documentary in all her works.

External context:
Which meaning does it get when presented in a newspaper/magazine, illustrating an article on Gaza?
Which meaning does it get when presented in a gallery, hanging on a white wall?
How can we play with these effects?
Can we raise questions by using an image not showing anything but what is seeming to be a
Do we need the captions to add something.
And how do we add the right caption?

For these reasons this image is called: 'Untitled', Gaza Airport, 2004, print, 40-50cm
The ‘untitled’ wants to leave the question open, adding the location is opportune to raise the
question to the viewer.

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VII. Bibliography
- David L. Altheide, “Creating Reality, How TV news distorts events”, 1976, Sage

- Terry Barrett, “Criticizing Photographs, an introduction to understanding images”, 1996,

second edition, Mayfield Publishing Company

- Roland Barthes, “The Photographic Message”, in Image-Music-Text, ed. Barthes (New

York, Hill & Wang,1977)

- Jonathan Crary, “Techniques of the Observer: on vision and modernity in the nineteenth
century”, 1990, second printing, Massachusettes Institute of Technology

- Flusser, “Towards a philosophy of Photography” (Für eine Philosophie der Fotografie.),

Reaction Books ISBN 1 86189 076 1.

- Anneke Smelik, “Effectief beeldvormen, theorie,analyse en praktijk van

beeldvormingsprocessen”, 1999, Van Gorcum&Comp (Effective image-forming, theoretics,
analysis and practise of the image forming processes)

- Susan Sonntag, “Regarding the Torture of Others”, May 23 2004, The New York Times

- Jaap van Ginniken, “De schepping van de wereld in het nieuws”, 1996, Houten/Diegem
(creation of the world in the news)

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Thank you.
I want to thank the Flemish Ministery of Education and the Israeli Ministery of Culture (with
in particular Mr. Johan De Witte and Mr. Arie Scher) for granting me a scholarship and
guiding me through the administrative webs.
Also Mr. Ido Bar-El and Prof. Nahum Tevet are to thank for their tutorship during these 2
Tamar Eres, Sigal Cohen, and Yasser Al Haj for being the best possible friends ever.
Henk Vandekerckhove, tutor in the Academy of Fine Arts, Ghent, who helped me out with
the correct formulas for the camera obscura.
Efrat Biberman and Gal Springman, for helping me with this paper.
And last but not least, my parents, grand-parents and Kristien, who always keep
encouraging me in my (strange) choices.

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