Mongrels and Crossbreeds
Some of our seven categories feature familiar shapes, others exotic. Some photographic lies are superabundant, others relatively rare. But there are many mongrels, fusions, and subspecies and their shameless interbreeding produces marvelous forms and riotous profusion. Hybrids abound.
Lies are inherently impure, almost always adulterated, tainted, debased. Liars will lie in whatever ways serve persuasion, so many of our examples are complex tinctures—subtle combinations in suspension. Journalism presents several sides to each story; the internet projects a dizzingly undifferentiated kaleidoscope. It’s a survival-of-the-fittest system of likes and reposts, shares and forwards. The most potent forms thrive, multiply, take wing. Lies travel the world like flights of birds. In a kind of reverse Darwinism, the most appealingly malformed, the most picturesquely putrescent prevail. It is no accident in this malignant biome that triumphant photographs are admiringly called viral.
These images fascinate us because they are both true and false depending on the context. They oscillate between fact and fiction, both and neither. Some things, Hemingway wrote, are “true at first and a lie by noon.” This is not unlike other photographs, but these are more evidently ambiguous, uncertain, unstable. All of which underlines a question which has been a question all along: photography’s dubious status as document, as evidence.
In the end, no matter their source or shape, photographs take on meaning only in interaction with humans. “Photographs are not ideas,” said Jean Paul Sartre. “They give us ideas.” Photographs are also not facts. They are mental space. It is in the jungle of human belief that photographic lies form their splendid, tangled ecosystem.