When photography arrived about 150 years ago, it was considered as a documentary medium because of the exact replicas of the subject. The technologically advanced cameras and development of photojournalism led to the development of realistic photos. Those photographs were considered a witnesses of reality as they expose the facts of life (Mullen 6). Gradually, manipulation in photography was looked upon to necessary to display the subject accurately. This was because the event was not self-explanatory or clear in photographs at times. Thus, the photographer was compelled at times to edit those images.
Documentary photography is seen to belong to the realm of truth. Still, it is seen that some photographers test the boundaries between reality and fiction. Several of those documentary projects carry a mix of fact with fiction. As a documentary photographer, one feels a responsibility that as they are shooting someone else’s life and story, it should be told as it is without any tempering. There are several documentary photographers who experiment with fiction to tell the true stories. After all, this is the time when there is very little exposure in newspapers and magazines for the documentary photographic industry. Moreover, funding is hard to come by, and it is no surprise to come across these photographers look at the new style of narrative to attract an audience (Laurent 2013).
Documentary photographers get into this field because they are passionate about their field. However, when they enter the field, they get disappointed because of the feedback and experience they get. They get disillusioned that they can change the world by taking these images. Gradually, they realize that the truth is based on what the political parties, advertisers, and corporations want (Theresa 4).The line between truth and fiction can get easily blurred in the digital age. When documentary photography is manipulated, the borderline between documentary and art gets blurry. Here, the photographs are neither purely fine art or purely documentary. Events do not always seem clear and self-explanatory in photographs, and without captions, some photographs become definitely vague. Ironically, a photographer may be forced to tamper with a photograph to represent the subject or scene as faithfully as possible. Today, computer technology can be applied to photography, and a great deal has been written about practicing this type of photography (Mullen 9). Pedro Meyer, the long-time practitioner of the traditional documentary, can be said to be a part photographer, part philosopher. Today, he understands well the ethics of offering digitally altered images as journalism. He argues that digital photos represent the truth in a better way. ZoneZero site functions as a forum for his ideas and is his gift to the future of photography. Meyer writes that photography always lived a false life (Cruz 2015). The essay discusses his viewpoint and how he treats documentary photography. At times, it becomes difficult to determine whether his work occupies fictional or documentary space. Pedro Meyer
Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer is well known for his revolutionary work in the digital imaging era. His provocative and compelling images have hovered between truth, fiction, and reality. With the advent of digital technologies, he progressed from a documentary photographer to digital documentary maker so as to arrive at higher meanings and truth. According to him, every photograph, whether digitally manipulated or not is both truth and fiction. Referred to as a ‘Heretic’ in the conventional world of documentary photography, he has been the spokesman of the Latin American photographers. He has redefined the very concept of photographic exhibition (Tasveer 2015). Pedro viewed and depicted life in the United States as both familiar and exotic. Although he was brought up in Mexico, he carries a strong sense of self and speaks English perfectly. His attitude can be seen in his work, and it is ironic, critical while reflective and compassionate at the same time (Street Photography Pedro Meyer 18).
Pedro Meyer’s contribution to photography cannot be ignored. His body of work covers about 55,000 images and is aptly misnamed street-photography (Street Photography Pedro Meyer 16). The photographer is on a hunt, but his subject matter may not be urban nor even outdoors. There is a difference between photojournalism, street photography and documentary photography. Still, those three modes of photography are not clearly defined and may overlap in many cases. Pedro has been a lifelong innovator who founded the American Colloquiums of Photography. His photographic surveys deal with cultural understandings both in the United States and Mexico. He is recently talked about for creating the website ZoneZero, which displays the work of artists and photographers from all across the world (Moore and Meyer 2001).
One of the most important consequences of the digital revolution was the fast disappearing of lines that demarcated different genres. Space and time changed the psychic landscape and everything seemed to be happening at once. Pedro was earlier known as a photojournalist. Still, he admits that he was increasingly disillusioned and felt that documentary photography was not able to convey what he really wanted to. Now that he had reached a dead end, he found the escape out via the digital photography (Martinez 1993). Pedro handles different modes of photography with a carefully. Some of his photographs such as the Hassidic school in Los Angeles fall within the documentary mode. However, the picture of a girl in Kansas jumping off a trampoline seems uncanny. Ethically speaking, the street photography looks for some kind of human involvement. Still, the photography dwells more on the social context and less on its perceptual aspects. Pedro’s photography gets gripping when the characters make interesting connections with the context.
It is interesting to see how Pedro depicts the United States people ad find them similar to North-American and European explorers with a certain level of exoticism (Street Photography Pedro Meyer 17). A photographer can alter a situation especially when it involves humans. However, it is to the photographers as to how they make use of their editing powers. They can change their vantage point by choreographing the subjects, burning, cropping and blurring a print. Pedro makes use of digital photography for photo-documentary needs (Street Photography Pedro Meyer 16). He believed that there was no straying from the truth because of the use of digital manipulation.
The absolute truthfulness of the photograph remains unchallenged in popular perception even in the contemporary digital society of the 21st century (Green 2006). All photographs are changed, cropped and transformed before they move from the three-dimensional world to the two-dimensional print. The computer was just a new subset of the photographic and an extension of the camera for Pedro. He invented a new species of photographic truth. Pedro utilizes the computer in Truths & Fictions to merge discrete moments in time so as to create iconic moments. Those black and white photographs are more closely affiliated with memory than with immediate experience. Pedro simulates the metaphorical consolidation of memory with the amalgamation of moments into a single representation.
According to Pedro, people get unsure about an image produced digitally for the documentary. The digital age has opened a whole new world of alterations. He finds any such alteration no different than what ordinary film was editing. One can create a documentary story by creating a stronger image by reorganizing or eliminating and adding pieces of information to complete a picture. It could be the way the photographer chooses to place the angle of his camera or opt for a computer alteration. Pedro encouraged photographers everywhere to apply digital technology and coming up with a stronger documentary work. There are risks of abuse, but those risks have been there in evert other field as well. It is time to realize that Documentary Photography has been refined (Meyer 2000).
As discussed earlier, there are questions being raised regarding the concept of fact and fiction. The very act of a photographer raising the viewfinder to their eye, the manipulation of a photograph begins. It is how the photographer holds the camera and at what angle, will influence what is being recorded and what the photograph will reveal. The control exercised by the photographer accurately suggest his aesthetic and technical intentions (A Photo Teacher 2015). The nature of technical execution, what is being photographed and how the subject is photographed is at the discretion of each photographer. In the documentary practice particularly, there is a why and what the photographs will serve.
When Pedro presents his digital pictures, he often gets comments like this is not a documentary photograph. It is essential to understand the intention of a documentary photograph, which is meant to present the reality as it is. It is no surprise to see critics finding no room for computers and digitation when recreating documentary images. One can draw some parallels between the works of a journalist and the documentary filmmaker. The journalist does not just reproduce what is placed in front of him or her. He has to portray the information accurately and articulately to present a good story (Meyer 2000). Likewise, the documentary filmmaker does not just shoot a film without performing some editing process. Even in an edited documentary work, there is the same sort of rationale that the representation is based on real life situations.
The photographic reality was a notion used for several decades to visual truth. However, Pedro new digital photographs questioned that very notion. Those wry images from him challenged the myths surrounding the documentary aesthetic. The simple and straight photograph is highly subjective according to the photographers. It reflects the psyche of the photographer as well as the political and commercial demand of the moment. Digital photographs shatter the myth of the photographic truth that had been ruling for decades. Pedro’s photographs usher in a whole new world of digital rather than the visual truth. Still, Meyer warns about the power of use and abuse of the computer, as it opens new vistas (Anonymous 1994). Pedro’s satire and wit get more refined and poignant with his new talent of imposing one image on another. He shows one thing and undercuts it with another visual element. His black and white images have recreated traditional photographic space and represent opposing forces of human experience and politics (Green 2006).
For Pedro, the digital photography that has surfaced has been the result of several years. After all, the digital cameras and the computers have been there for more than two decades. However, the development has been gradual. When working for National Geographic, he mentioned a connection between the magic realism and the digital photography. Still, he feels that magic realism is an abused expression (Moore and Meyer 2001). Digital photography allows one to express those images expressively and is not about any one style of imagery. He announces that documentary photography is also a fiction. For example, it does not let you know what is going on to its right, left or above or below the frame. He argues that some kind of manipulation withy the photographs have always been there. For example, the subjects in a documentary at times were asked to give the right expression on their faces. Can such photographs and images reveal the real truth? In fact, one can find hundreds of expressions in just a few moments, and one is not just talking about one single moment through those photographs and images. In fact, merged and manipulated photographs are more meaningful. When he is manipulating an image, he is trying to show the real scene while exploring a more surreal territory. What is magical about his work is that it blurs the artisanal differences between the different genres (Martinez 1993).
The new digital image-maker would blur the lines between photography and other visual streams. Still, Pedro made his altered digital photographs preserve the look of traditional documentary photography. Still, he created a hybrid over the original with the manipulation of the photographic image. Voyager CD-ROM Truths & Fictions that premiered in 1993, showcasing Pedro’s new digital experiments, also opened a new route for photography (Green 2006).The emerging computer aesthetic was a far cry from the smooth photographic rendition, a result of conventional photographic processes. It seems Pedro’s journey from documentary to digital had begun.
Pedro’s color work can be categorized in those which moves into cinematic time and others that carry the aesthetic of the black and white images. Those fantastic and impossible works of fiction images neatly fit neatly into the sphere of cinematic illusion. They may violate our notion of photographic truth but are not of objective visual facts. Pedro’s most recent work, The Camera’s Brushes shows his manipulated color work to break our tacit agreement with reality. Pedro’s work recuperates photographic veracity within a painterly space. It adds a new and dynamic revision of the classic Pictorialism of the Photo-Secessionists (Green 2006). Photographic objectivity and realism were derived from the intersection of time, space, and the instantaneity of photography. With Pedro’s work, one encounters a pictorial universe where all three of these elements are in flux. Truths & Fictions photographs contained both truths and fictions. Those images force one to leave the world of photographic reality and enter a world of surrealism and mystery. Ever since Pedro began working with the computer, he is busy with experimentation, re-conceptualization and restructuring photographic presentation. He has redefined the relationship between space and time and developed a new strategy for making a documentary image. Truths & Fictions offers unusual examples of new possibilities and helps one to expand his understanding of photography’s potential in the new digital age.
Photography has always influenced history and visually recorded the world. Yet, how it is manipulated and shaped by the photographer and framed remains a complex ethical and political issue. The number of photographers has increased massively over the past decade, and the boundary between truth and fiction is further blurred. Today, in fact, anyone with a smartphone with a camera can shoot their stories and create their records. The Internet further offers everyone the freedom to document and record images the way they prefer. Still, it is photography that creates compelling fictions and presents the powerful truth. Photographers know that it 's hard to have everything fall into place in one shot. Pedro feels that it requires patience to get the image one has imagined. For him, photography presents a wonderful opportunity today, and one can pull the right strings to create a stronger image for a documentary story. One can add, eliminate or reorganize those pieces of information to make the final picture. In his picture, there is nothing within the frame that wasn’t there in the reality of the world. He feels there is no difference in his style of working with images and to a photographer who chooses his angle to place a camera to get a more favorable light or position. He encourages photographers to test the new waters and apply digital technology in their documentary work. The risks of abuse cannot be ignored, but one cannot overlook the amount of creativity the new media has to offer. Documentary Photography has indeed been redefined by Pedro and other documentary photographers like him.
Anonymous. "Extraphotographic Reality." The Chronicle of Higher Education 41.7 (1994): B60. Web. Link
"A Photo Teacher." aphototeacher. 2015. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.
Cruz, Ben de la." The Alternate Reality of Pedro Meyer. washingtonpost. 2015. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.
Green, Jonathan." Pedro Meyer’s special theory of Relativity: Truths and Fictions pedromeyer. 2006. Web. 5 Feb. 2016Laurent, Olivier. "Stranger than fiction: Should documentary photographers add fiction to reality? British Journal of Photography. 2013. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.
Martinez, Ruben. Truth & Fiction: Photographer Pedro Meyer Crosses Borders, Real and Imagined. 18 Vol. Foundation for National Progress, 1993. Web. Link
Meyer, Pedro " Redefining Documentary Photography,” ZoneZero. 2000. Web. 5 Feb. 2016
Moore, George Mead, and Pedro Meyer. Pedro Meyer. New Art Publications, 2001. Web.
Mullen, Leslie. “Truth In Photography: Perception, Myth And Reality In The Postmodern World." University Of Florida.1.1 (1998): 1-109. Print.
"Street Photography Pedro Meyer." Best of two worlds 1.1 (2012): 14-19. Print.
"Tasveer." tasveerarts. 2015. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.
Theresa, Maria. "Fauxtography: Truth and and Fiction in Documentary Photography." Contemporary Photography 1.1 (2010): 1-7. Print.