Does This Horse Make Me Look Fake?
This photograph of Ulysses S Grant was in last Sunday’s NY Times accompanying an article about photographic fakery, brought up by renewed questions about Frank Capa’s “Fallen Soldier” photograph. (Capa’s photograph, strangely, is for sale in the NY Times online store.) Gen. Grant’s photo jumped out at me particularly because it is included in “Grant and Sherman” a book I’m reading about the generals’ Civil War friendship. The the image is a composite of three separate photographs and had caused me to pause when I first ran across it. Grant’s horse appears to be floating above the foreground. There’s clearly something wrong. Still, the book treats it as a straight portrait, even while calling out the oddness of the pose with the caption: “During the war, numerous photographs were made of Grant by himself and with his higher-ranking officers, but this is the only one showing him against a background of his troops in the field.” Hmm, perhaps not.
The Times article reviews a series of historical examples of faked photographs. It mixes examples of fakery down before and after triggering the shutter, but no mention of its own recent imbroglio. (I’d call pre-shutter tricks “staged”, post-shutter “faked”.)
“Critical Terrain” has a long and excellent post on this same issue, concluding all that can be said about a photograph’s truth to be “This is what the picture you’re looking at looks like.”