Ideological persuasion and satire in photography, through pre-photoshop alteration


John Heartfield - Die drei Weisen aus dem Sorgenland - 1935

Analogue photography, before the launch of Photoshop on the market, which took place in 1990, in terms of treatment methods, was able to rely on counterfeiting techniques both in shooting, using multiple exposures, filters that modify the photographic and color rendering , both in print, using photomontage techniques, screens, as well as rapid and hypersensitive papers which, by creating strong and bold contrasts, eliminate intermediate shades. In these few lines, we will briefly attempt to study the rules of photographic treatment in the social sphere, in relation to its use and also in a synthetic and relatively complete way that photography is not an exact science, let alone a dogmatic discipline, where the laws and the regulations are rigid and insurmountable, and highlight that photography is above all endowed with great pragmatic and ethical flexibility, documenting how the realization of photographic images often presupposes, because it is linked to the interpretation of the photographer, realistic falsehoods.

The great master of photography Andreas Feininger, in the 1970s, in his books The New Technique of Photography and The New Technique of Color Photography, stated that all photos are lies. Because? For example, let's consider a landscape and transform its perspective, adopting a certain objective and reducing the field of view, through the photographic cut. So let's continue with the alteration of the lights and colors, and why not, add or remove some details. In the end, what will result will appear to be reality, but only in a personal interpretation, even perhaps even very far away. Moreover, beyond the manipulation, the world that objectively seems to exist is decoded by the human eye and recorded in a photograph, without taking into account that of all the frequencies of light, the visual spectrum covers only a narrow range, which we can just a little enhance by adopting infrared films. Hence, as Feininger argued, photography is simply an interpretation of reality, which must necessarily be surpassed in an attempt to achieve very specific purposes, for a greater understanding of behavioral, educational and social problems, because man " unlike anything else organic or inorganic in the universe, it grows beyond its work, climbs the ladder of its concept, emerges before its realizations." (Furore - John Steinbeck).

The examination of photographic finds designed to define the set objectives is complex, since there are many examples of the artifice and manipulation of analogue photography. Photo manipulation is a very popular phenomenon in the digital age and, as it states Mia Fineman in her Faking it, it is interesting to know that almost every type of manipulation existing in modern times was already used in the pre-digital era of photography, before the advent of Photoshop. Only the methods have changed and above all the purposes that have pushed photographers to such mystifications are different and distinct. Starting from the assertion that an image is worth a thousand words, we will try to demonstrate through the study and observation of some photographs taken into consideration, in which the forgery, sometimes concealed, sometimes ostentatious, how much weight and value it had in the collective imagination and how much it has been of enslavement to the enunciation of ideologies. George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984 describes how in a country with a totalitarian regime an attempt is made to modify history, rewriting it, inserting facts and characters that never existed, in order to give an image of the efficiency and perfection of the political model adopted, giving in thus in the past elements that justify the present. Well, history has left us testimonies that amply denote the use of this practice, such as the photograph of 1922 which portrays Stalin and Lenin smiling, sitting amicably next to each other, of Gorky. The photograph appears too "clean". It has undoubtedly undergone some tweaks.

Anonymous author - Lenin and Stalin -1922 -1923 - In the Gorky nursing home

The photographic archives in fact present another photograph, taken in the same circumstance which, although very similar to the widespread one, does not show the two politicians portrayed in friendly and smiling expressions and the background different from the previous one, clearly denounces a reworking of the image.

Manipulated photo of Lenin and Stalin

Confirming the same year is Lenin's famous political testament, an important document for the history of the communist movement, in which the need for Stalin's removal from his post as general secretary of the party is supported. It is therefore believed that the photo was retouched to formalize a profound understanding and consecrate the Stalinist succession to the leadership of the Communist Party. The image went around the world and the celebration of Stalin, as the absolute leader of the Bolshevik Party, with Lenin's blessing, was universally accepted. In the specific case, the manipulation is subtle and insinuating, because it tends to represent a non-existent reality and absolutely contrary to the truth, to use the snapshot for propaganda purposes. The photographic manipulation of the 1935 image by photographer John Heartfield, entitled: Die drei Weisen aus dem Sorgenland, was carried out with entirely different purposes, the result of happy photomontages.

John Heartfield - "Die drei Weisen aus dem Sorgenland" - 1935

In this case the intent is to mock the German government and the manipulation is visibly manifest. The photographer intended to make fun of the absurd vision of the Nazi world, reducing Goebbels, Goering and Hitler to three caricatures, in unstable balance on a rope that is gnawed by a large mouse, so as to denote the precariousness of the Reich, ruled by the three improbable tightrope walkers. . In conclusion, it will be said that photography itself has no qualities of truth, but the latter are realized when the intent of the photographer exists to represent reality in its most intimate and intrinsic essence. On the other hand, there is always present in the photographer, albeit latent, the desire to give a personal imprint to his work, in order to be able to use it for purposes that go beyond the mere meaning of the shot itself.

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