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

Don’t Believe Your Lion Eyes

The preposterous has surprising power. We often question the plausible but give the outrageous a pass. Preposterous practices of the past are particularly confusing. Who is to say how they did things in the foreign country we call history? This is especially confusing when we consider Hollywood, a business built on elevated visual trickery.

The Claim
A sedated lion was stuffed through the famous black “Metro Goldwyn Mayer” frame to produce the MGM “roaring lion” logo. A reverse view photograph of the prostrate lion anchors the claim.

The Lie
The photograph shows an Israeli Barbary lion named Samson getting a 2005 CAT scan to diagnose a neurological condition induced by vitamin deficiency. In classic Hollywood fashion, the MGM frame was added in digital post, an utter fabrication.

The photograph is false, but it uncannily echoes Hollywood reality. A string of seven lions have served as Leo the MGM trademark lion beginning with “Slats” in 1917. When talkies arrived in 1928, crews needed to film the second lion, “Jackie,” roaring in both sight and sound. To do so, they stuck Jackie’s head through a wide black frame to create a black surround. The footage first appeared at the opening of MGM’s inaugural sound production, White Shadows in the South Seas, and then in film after film.

The sedated lion story has a happy Hollywood ending. Samson underwent successful surgery at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, regained his health, and rejoined his sister Delilah at the Hai-Kef Zoo south of Tel Aviv.