The ‘when’ of a photograph can be as important as the ‘what’, sometimes more important. Photographs are often regarded as a window onto space, but just as significantly show a point in time. That time influences or even determines meaning.
Standing in a narrow plane aisle, presidential candidate Joe Biden leans over to talk with his press secretary Remi Yamamoto. It’s the midst of the pandemic but neither person wears a mask. On November 1, 2020, Richard Grennell, former acting Director of National Intelligence, posts the photo under the head “Washington, DC phony!” He pairs it with an image of Biden outside wearing a mask. “@JoeBiden doesn’t wear a mask on a plane – but wears one OUTSIDE!?” Two hours later, the photograph is picked up by hard right radio host Mark Levin—“Biden wears a mask outside but not on a plane. Fraud.”—then shared by 13,600 others.
The photograph is straightforward and unaltered. But Biden does not wear a mask because the image predates the coronavirus pandemic. The photograph has been timeshifted. The image was made by Biden campaign photographer Adam Schultz. His caption: “Yamamoto and Biden huddle on a flight to South Carolina in November 2019.” In that pre-pandemic year, the first Covid-19 case in North America is two months away (though election lies are already at full flow).