Create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story. The aim of the assignment is to help you explore the convincing nature of documentary, even though what the viewer thinks they see may not in fact be true. Try to make both sets equally convincing so that it’s impossible to tell which version of the images is ‘true’.
Two sides, two truths?
There seems to be a difference between the falsification of a situation (the registration thereof) and (mis-)use of the ‘true’ registration of a situation. As in the difference between a lie and opposing opinion. Either can be true or false, however, its intention defines our ethical acceptance of the “story”. As long as we don’t know the intention of the story and image (if not the same) all can be true and be accepted as such. Only the falsification of the situation with the intention to mislead is not accepted as truth.
How far can the narrator go to bend the images in use for the bigger cause of the story? Is there more allowed in the good cause, the good story then in a bad cause? Is there more bending of the truth allowed when narrating on the positive side than on the negative. The viewer decides, but only after he knows or at least is aware of the intention and correctness of the registration (image). Otherwise, it is just cause-marketing, where everything is allowed as it seems. I was hoping to find my own truth to these questions, I probably made it worse doing this assignment. It’s not the narrative that follows the images, the images follow the narrative. Images even can be shared among the two sides. How strong is the image actually on its own? “the weight of words…” (Sontag, 2017).
The development of ideas leads me to another issue among versions of truths or sides on images. Can an image support both stories? What influence has a story (opinion) on an image, does the image need to change to become partisan on a side or is the weight of words strong enough to bend the image. Terry Barret (Barrett, 2000) defines several types of context to an image: Internal, Original and External. They largely define the interpretation of the image. During my planning of this assignment, it would be obvious, the internal context would be sufficient. Stories are wide apart, knowing the park, it would be obvious to depict either story unambiguously. During the actual shooting doubt began to form, there was no clear truth. Every image I previsualized could be used by either party. The original context blurred my view. The selection and sequencing needed some external context too, the story and caption even.
For this assignment, I used a real-life situation, two stories. Amsterdam has a very large city park, designed and created in the interbellum period. It is based on English Landscape Style architecture (opposing the French Garden Style with its symmetry in design), with postmodern architectural elements in the Amsterdam School Style, like bridges and signposts. The park (semi-forest) was intended for recreational purposes and to create a natural buffer zone at the south-side of the ever-expanding city.
The (city)park has indeed a multifunctional character, with ponds, horse tracks, a forest theatre, official rowing-track, and of course recreational cycling, running and walking, with or without the dog, complimented with some restaurants and public toilets, all in a very natural, forestlike setting.
City council Amsterdam has made plans to make the park “future proof”.
The increased tourism (visitors), tension among visitors and the pressure on nature resulted in plans to separate the types of visitors in sub-areas and routes. Decrease walking/cycling paths to increase nature, (remove 6 hectares of paths!), make the park better reachable by car and public transport and market the park by new, eye-catching visually strong entrances and upgrade communication in the media and around the park.
Opposing (civil) plans; leave the park intact, preserve its unique character.
There are no tensions, everybody behaves respectfully towards each other in the park. Simply restore neglected parts, improve the existing paths and infrastructure but leave most as-is. There is plenty of room for everybody, the separation of visitors is done sufficiently by the use of existing functionally separated paths (horse/walk/bike) and the recreational areas that are massively vast, do not need further division. Leave the park alone, just fix and maintain properly.
While working and selecting the images, it became more difficult over time to select the correct image to the related story. Images could simply jump to the other side, without any alteration, simple by rethinking my stance or changing the caption. Did this mean the images are not strong or explicit enough, the opposing stories not opposing enough or is the interpretation of an image always depending on the context, the story being the context? I visited the park numerous times with this assignment in mind. It became increasingly difficult to visualize government opinion/plans. Not because they represent the government but I could not see the issue indeed. I could not find any form of irritation, shortage of space, lack of nature. The more I walked in the park, the fewer problems I noticed. It became difficult to depict an opinion/story I could not agree on or, did not represent what was right in my own opinion. It became difficult to abnegate my thoughts on the situation. My truth developed and perhaps that’s the only one that counts? How difficult it must be to report situations you not agree with or go against your own idea, ethic or moral. The context of a scholarly assignment does not change this fact much, I presume, nothing does, not here nor in any situation, not as an assignment, not for money, not for success? Does this mean one always has to agree on the story depicting or can one truly depict a convincing story without belief in its truth? It brings back questions from the first part of this unit https://ph4can.bertvandenberg.nl/category/coursework/part-one-the-photograph-as-document/project-1-eyewitnesses/exercise-1-the-impact-of-citizen-journalism/ were visual material (photographs and video) was used by no less than 3 opposing parties/stories without any alteration of the materials. The evidential value was equal to all stories while the images themselves were extremely explicit, so where the stories in fact.