Are staged documentary photos true?

Photos of The Great Depression

Miles Orvell – Documentary photography and pictorial manipulation

Recent lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art given by Miles Orvell of Temple University asks “are manipulated (staged) documentary photographs true?” Many of the FSA photographs were staged or set up. The question is “are they less effective; are they lies?”

One could make a distinction. A staged photograph depicts a general concept or situation. A candid photograph depicts a literal truth. But these differences are blurred. Is waiting for the “decisive moment” a candid shot. One could say that all photography is a matter of selection for a purpose, whether art, news, or propaganda.

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