Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography

Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography

Errol Morris / Aug 23, 2019

Believing is Seeing Observations on the Mysteries of Photography Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year Academy Award wining filmmaker Errol Morris investigates the hidden truths behind a series of documentary photographs In Believ

  • Title: Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography
  • Author: Errol Morris
  • ISBN: 9781594203015
  • Page: 442
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year Academy Award wining filmmaker Errol Morris investigates the hidden truths behind a series of documentary photographs In Believing Is Seeing Academy Award winning director Errol Morris turns his eye to the nature of truth in photography In his inimitable style, Morris untangles the mysteries behindSelected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year Academy Award wining filmmaker Errol Morris investigates the hidden truths behind a series of documentary photographs In Believing Is Seeing Academy Award winning director Errol Morris turns his eye to the nature of truth in photography In his inimitable style, Morris untangles the mysteries behind an eclectic range of documentary photographs, from the ambrotype of three children found clasped in the hands of an unknown soldier at Gettysburg to the indelible portraits of the WPA photography project Each essay in the book presents the reader with a conundrum and investigates the relationship between photographs and the real world they supposedly record During the Crimean War, Roger Fenton took two nearly identical photographs of the Valley of the Shadow of Death one of a road covered with cannonballs, the other of the same road without cannonballs Susan Sontag later claimed that Fenton posed the first photograph, prompting Morris to return to Crimea to investigate Can we recover the truth behind Fenton s intentions in a photograph taken 150 years ago In the midst of the Great Depression and one of the worst droughts on record, FDR s Farm Service Administration sent several photographers, including Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans, to document rural poverty When Rothstein was discovered to have moved the cow skull in his now iconic photograph, fiscal conservatives furious over taxpayer money funding an artistic project claimed the photographs were liberal propaganda What is the difference between journalistic evidence, fine art, and staged propaganda During the Israeli Lebanese war in 2006, no fewer than four different photojournalists took photographs in Beirut of toys lying in the rubble of bombings, provoking accusations of posing and anti Israeli bias at the news organizations Why were there so many similar photographs And were the accusers objecting to the photos themselves or to the conclusions readers drew from them With his keen sense of irony, skepticism, and humor, Morris reveals in these and many other investigations how photographs can obscure as much as they reveal and how what we see is often determined by our beliefs Part detective story, part philosophical meditation, Believing Is Seeing is a highly original exploration of photography and perception from one of America s most provocative observers.

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    About "Errol Morris"

      • Errol Morris

        Errol Morris Is a well-known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography book, this is one of the most wanted Errol Morris author readers around the world.


    816 Comments

    1. Errol Morris shows how the meaning of photographs shifts when the context in which they're viewed shifts. As a contextualist, I found this an exciting (if not surprising) demonstration. Each essay is an exercise in changing the context of famous photographs. Fenton's In the Valley of the Shadow of Death changes from a document of the horrors of war into a way of exposing interpretive hubris and the limits of knowledge. The snapshots of torture taken by MPs in Abu Ghraib become forensic data in t [...]


    2. "I, too, look at the two Fenton photographs and try to imagine what Fenton's intentions might have been. It's unavoidable. People have been programmed to do so by natural selection - to project ourselves into the world - and to imagine Fenton's world as we imagine ours. We want to know where we end and the world begins. We want to know where that line is. It's the deepest problem of epistemology."All of the central issues of photography that I address in this book of essays - questions of posing [...]


    3. The essays, while very readable, address photos and how they are perceived more than it addressed "photography". Morris provides a broad range of analyses of various historical photos, places them in context with the social/psychological issues they address and covers a huge amount of time and technique. My review is necessarily superficial, as I did not find this collection of essays particularly compelling.


    4. i really loved this book - it engaged me, it made me think and most of all, it made me long for someone to discuss it with - it made me want a photography book club in my life. because it warrants discussion and debate. it made me so much more aware of the emotions and intentions that we bring to any photograph - how much of the story of a photograph happens inside of our own heads. the highlights, for me, were definitely chapter 1 - on two photos of a crimean war battlefield taken by photograph [...]


    5. A close but informal look at photography, journalism, history, propaganda, and truth using a half-dozen or so examples. Very educational and thought-provoking. As the jacket copy says "part detective story, part philosophical meditation."


    6. It's rare that I can read a book of essays and not find one of them boring. In an ordinary collection, at least one will be about something Ihave absolutely dull and am forced to either finish reading it, or miss out on something I could learn from. Thankfully with Believing Is Seeing, documentary film maker, Errol Morris, has managed to write 4 lively and interesting essays into an aspect of photography I've never really thought about before.In these essays he examines the nature and history of [...]


    7. I have to admit I was not keen to read this book because I found Morris' blog posts on the NYTimes site kind of tiring to read through. But those same essays, in book form, are much more engaging and enjoyable. Part of the reason is the design of the book, with illustrations as well placed as an Edward Tufte volume. The readability comes also from the fact that some of the writing is in the form of "dialogue" -- transcripts (edited, presumably) of conversations Morris had with others.The book is [...]


    8. Amazing analysis of photography, history, and human psychology. Errol Morris's conversational style and investigative approach takes you through five different photographs and the questions we should ask about them. The torture at Abu Grahib occurred while I was still quite young, and my re-education on this event was aided through Morris's simultaneous education and questioning about the way we learn and remember about world events. An awesome book to fulfill my thirst for media analysis and qu [...]


    9. Very well-written and interesting exploration of issues related to photography and certain photographs. If I were more into photography or fact-checking, I probably would have really liked it.


    10. This is a conversational, obsessive rumination about aspects of photography. Filmmaker Errol Morris asks: What can we really know from a photograph? How do we interpret and misinterpret photos? How has photography impacted our sense of reality, history, and evidence?The book is primarily built around a handful of photographs (or related series of photographs): from the Crimean War, Abu Ghraib (the subject of Morris's film, "Stand Operating Procedure"), the Civil War, and a few others.The book is [...]


    11. This book is great, and I have a hard time rating it. While on the one hand it makes you think about these profound questions about photography, I also feel like it leaves much to be desired. There is just so much more to think about that he introduces. I wish he had attempted to give a cohesive idea or thought to it all. In the end is just feels like "isn't that a neat idea?" And my response is "YES! Now tell me more! Let's keep going!"


    12. A curious documentary book, a connected series of essays on contextualizing and investigating photographic records beyond our initial visual assumptions. Written by a documentary filmmaker, nearly a script, the style is visual and heavily laced with interview transcripts of his explorations. Evidence of war (Crimean, Abu Ghraib, Israel/Lebanon, and US Civil War) is the theme throughout. Kinda good, kinda nerdy, thought provoking.



    13. Excerpts from book - main takeaways for me -----“Believing Is Seeing” is about the limitations of vision, and aboutthe inevitable idiosyncrasies and distortions involved in the act oflooking — in particular, looking at photographs.“Believing Is Seeing,” though perceptive about photography, isfundamentally concerned with something very different: epistemology.Morris is chiefly interested in the nature of knowledge, in figuringout where the truth — in both senses — lies.We first enco [...]


    14. In Believing Is Seeing Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris turns his eye to the nature of truth in photography. In his inimitable style, Morris untangles the mysteries behind an eclectic range of documentary photographs, from the ambrotype of three children found clasped in the hands of an unknown soldier at Gettysburg to the indelible portraits of the WPA photography project. Each essay in the book presents the reader with a conundrum and investigates the relationship between photograph [...]


    15. This book presents a cool idea executed by someone I believe is one of America's coolest figures, the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris. He has the mind of a private investigator and the heart of an artist, which has resulted in some of the most probing yet beautiful films ever made, including The Fog of War and Gates of Heaven.Whether interviewing Robert McNamara and trying to understand what motivated one of the key players in the Vietnam War (Fog) or literally playing detective in the case o [...]


    16. If I looked at the world through Errol Morris' eyes, there might be a caution across the bottom: OBJECTS MAY NOT BE AS THEY APPEAR. The man questions everything; the more generally accepted an idea, the harder he digs.* It's one reason he makes great film documentaries.In this book, he examines the "objective truth" of some photographs. There is always a subjective element in what the photographer chooses to photograph and what is included in the frame; another choice is made when an editor deci [...]


    17. Cameras don't lie, they say—but photographers can, and do. And for photo journalists, that doesn't necessarily imply anything as obviously wrong as retouching a print in the darkroom, or manipulating it with the magic of software (although those happen too). Merely moving an object within the camera's field of vision could constitute manipulation. And sometimes the image itself is unchanged, and it's the context presented with the image that makes it utterly misleading.For the essays in Believ [...]


    18. Crimean war photography; the Abu Ghraib photos of the Hooded Man and Sabrina Harman's smile; FSA photography and the work of Edward Rothstein/Walker Evans; war photojournalism and the political messages behind the "posing" of toys; civil war photography and search for meaning in the past. What is a "realistic", unaltered, documentary photograph and what does it mean to pose/alter a photograph - is choosing what to frame not itself a selection of reality? "Couldn't you argue that every photograph [...]


    19. The essays in this book use a variety of subjects from famous photos of the Farm Security Administration to the Abu Ghraib portfolio to investigate epistemological questions about the nature of truth in photographs. And lest that turn you off, the good news is Errol Morris does a fantastic job of keeping the material accessible by relying on conversational interview transcripts much more than academic papers or other such esoteric resources. What does it mean to pose a photograph? How does that [...]


    20. An extraordinary book that everyone interested in photography first and perception above all should read. What Morris does is tease apart, with enormous patience and insight, the stories behind some historically controversial photographs. We go through the famous Fenton photographs of the cannonballs on the road during the Crimean War. We study the horrific Abu Ghraib photographs. We ponder some iconic photographs from the Dust Bowl era in the United States. We admire a touching photograph from [...]


    21. That photography both reveals and conceals is not a new idea. Or that, as Morris comments, "concepts of naturalness, authenticity, and posing are all slippery slopes that when carefully examined become hopelessly vague." Or that, throughout the history of photography, photographers and others have grappled with the relationship of the photograph to reality. So, I experienced no "Aha" moments while reading Believing is Seeing . . . . Rather, of most interest to me were the details about the photo [...]


    22. I think Errol Morris is a brilliant documentary film maker. So when I saw this book I had to read it. It is an analytical look at a handful of amazing photographs. His expertise is going behind the photo to reveal it's meaning. Captions sit uncomfortably with him and he pursues the very thoughts of each photographer as they made the image, although that's not always possible. The key photos are Fenton's "Valley of Death" photo from the Crimean War, Abu Ghraib photos, photos from Lebanon during t [...]


    23. I saw my first Errol Morris film in the early 80s in film class, The Thin Blue Line. It would be the ground breaking film into exonerating the falsely accused. Great film.Now, Morris has tried to take a documentary film maker's approach to several landmark photographs and open up their history and story as well as openly discuss the value (or valuelessness) of photography. He explores the mystery of a "posed" clock on a share-cropper's mantle. This was from an accusation that Walker Evans' stage [...]


    24. Errol Morris is a documentary filmmaker and photographer. This book is a collection of his columns in the New York Times, where he wrote about the assumptions people make as they look at photographs. Morris often chose important historic photographs -- such as Roger Fenton's 1855 image "The Valley of the Shadow of Death", taken during the Crimeran War -- which have been dogged by controversy. Morris' newspaper column, which only appeared online, drew thousands of comments from the average reader [...]


    25. What a fascinating book! It challenges the assumption that the camera doesn't lie. Errol Morris shows us how the stories presented by a superficial look at documentary photographs are not always what they seem. Morris goes to extreme lengths to get to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding several controversial photos. He reminds us that too often we look at things superficially, and that unless we are willing to take the time and mental effort to go deep, we accept a vision of reality that [...]


    26. Help! I hate to say it, but I'm bored by this. I'm not really sure what page I'm on but I read the first chapter and part of the second and then skipped around a bit. I want to like this so much - the points he is making about questioning what we "know" about a photograph and the meaning we bring to analysis are very important. Morris is a great critical thinker and detective. But so far the book is kind of dry and pedantic for the amount of broader insightfulness it offers. Since these aren't r [...]


    27. "War is such a peculiar thing - inaugurated by the whims of a few, affecting the fate of many. It is a difficult, if not impossible thing to understand, yet we feel compelled to describe it as though it has meaning - even virtue. It starts for reasons often hopelessly obscure, meanders on, then stops.""In the pre-photographic era, images came directly from our eyes to our brains and were part of our experience of reality. With the advent of photography, images were torn free from the world, snat [...]


    28. Believing Is Seeing: (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography) by Errol Morris, a filmmaker, unravels the mysteries of documentary photography. Why is Morris so skeptical about documentary photographs? Does it relate to his deceased father and the secrecy around his role in the family or to his eye surgery as a child? Beyond that, Morris seeks out factual evidence through testimony, history, and careful examination of light and contrast to determine the authenticity of photos and the storie [...]


    29. Silly rabbit, photographs are tricks! 'Believing Is Seeing' is a forensic inquiry into the "legitimacy"of a few famous photographs (Valley Of The Shadows Of Death, the Abu Ghraib Hooded man photo, the Sabrina Harman 'Thumbs Up' photo over mutilated body at same location, Dust Bowl and other propaganda photos, etc.) Photography does not, has never, will never express objective truth. All photography is manipulated; by the photographers frame perspective, by lens length, length of exposure, darkro [...]


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