Lying with Photographs:
An Analytical Framework

UCR ARTS: California Museum of Photography
Curated by Douglas McCulloh

Lies are ever-present in human affairs, a tidal flow that rises and falls. Recently, lies have been at flood stage and photographs are central to the surge.

Statements, strings of words, are readily seen as assertions, claims. Photographs, on the other hand, are presumed to be a form of evidence. In Susan Sontag’s phrase, we assume photographs are “directly stenciled off the real.” Consequently, photographs, even dubious ones, carry credence in a way that words do not. Moreover, writes theorist Lev Manovich, “the reason we think that computer graphics technology has succeeded in faking reality is that we, over the course of the last hundred and fifty years, have come to accept the image of photography and film as reality.” For these main reasons and scores of lesser ones, photographs are ideal vehicles for lies. (Read More)

Additional Notes:
Sources for the Specimens
Mongrels and Crossbreeds
On the Nature of Lies
Marvels and Magical Beliefs 
On Abundance

1. Manipulated  (Read More)
    1.1    Fog and Pestilence    
    1.2   Don’t Believe Your Lion Eyes
    1.3   Wriggling, Writhing, and ‘Rithmatic’
    1.4   The Case of the Body Double
    1.5   Failed Photoshop’s Peak Point
    1.6   Face Reality
    1.7   ‘Triple-washed & Sanitized’

2. Manufactured (Read More)
    2.1   Cross Purposes
    2.2   Political Theater
    2.3   Asleep at the Real
    2.4   Expect the Wurst
    2.5   Black and White
    2.6   The Real Thing. Perhaps.
    2.7   Elongated
    2.8   In Space They Can’t Hear You Lie
    2.9   Cute Overload
    2.10  Dead Real

3. Recontextualized (Read More)
    3.1   Blue-eyed Boy
    3.2  A Glowing Future
    3.3  Blowing Smoke
    3.4 This Many Pictures...
    3.5  Targeted
    3.6  Costume Drama
    3.7  Fish Story
    3.8  Extracting the Truth
    3.9  Secrets Serviced
    3.10 Against the Wall
    3.11  Commemoration

4. Timeshifted (Read More)
    4.1  All the Rage
    4.2  Catnip
    4.3  Time Travel
    4.4  Masquerade
    4.5  Beach Pathology

5. Extracted (Read More)
    5.1  Chapter and Verse
    5.2  Whitewashing
    5.3  The Case of the Melting Cars
    5.4  Deadly Serious
    5.5  Striking
    5.6  Smell a Rat

6. Mirrored (Read More)
    6.1  Orange Appeal
    6.2  Crouching Panther, Hidden

    6.3  Fool’s Gold

7. Denied (Read More)
    7.1  Kidding
    7.2  Pregnant with Meaning
    7.3  A Lot to Learn
    7.4  Out to Sea
    7.5  Vial Lies

© UC Regents 2022


The most enticing lies are flattering mirrors. They reflect us the way we want to be seen. We realize, for instance, that humanity is pushing animals across the planet toward a future where they cannot survive. We are causing a mass extinction, but this is difficult to face. So, offered a counterexample, we want to believe. Wild populations of all the big cats are in steep decline—cheetahs, tigers, leopards, lions, jaguars. Conservation groups say only about 15,000 jaguars remain due to poaching, deforestation, habitat destruction, and population fragmentation. We are jaguar killers, but we want to see ourselves as saviors.

The Claim
A Brazilian soldier rescues a jaguar that plunged into the water to escape the massive rainforest wildfires sweeping the Amazon basin in August 2019.

The Lie
The photograph is unaltered, but appropriated and timeshifted.  It was made by photographer None Mangueira in early 2016—well over three years prior to the season of extreme Amazonian conflagrations. Unsurprisingly, the feline also has a backstory. The handsome water-loving cat is Jiquitaia, the jaguar mascot of the Comando Militar de la Amazônía in Manaus, Brazil. According to the photographer, the image is one of many showing Jiquitaia on his daily swim with soldiers in the Rio Negro. The military rescued the jaguar as cub after hunters killed his mother. The photograph was made to promote the preservation of the species, part of the military’s “Jaguars in the Amazon” project.