As image circulation has accelerated, it has become increasingly difficult to decide whether we live in a period of abundance or of debasement and decline. Do we live among riches? Or, like the late Roman emperors debasing the coinage, does each new image (or million images) reduce the value of all? In times of hyperinflation, it’s not just newly minted money that loses value, but all currency.
Photographic lies have an expanded field on the internet, but not for the obvious reasons. Most lies have limited appeal, credibility, audience. They need exceedingly wide distribution to find their audience, those particularly susceptible, and this the internet provides. George Bernard Shaw stated it succinctly: “The photographer is like the cod, which lays a million eggs in order that one may be hatched.” The delivery system is, literally, Amazon-scale. Additionally, sorting fact from fiction takes time and the web increasingly makes sure we have none. Technology theorists call this “accelerationism.”
Finally, the growing density of photographic lies threatens to cast generic suspicion across all of photography. The implications reach well beyond the final decay of photography’s evidentiary status. The internet is a polluted river, suspect, invisibly insidious. The polluters occupy a million hidden tributaries. They are evasive pariahs, tricky to track down. The flood of falsehood is, ultimately a comprehensive indictment of visual veracity. Seeing is no longer believing. The ultimate logic is doubt. Don’t believe anything you hear and half of what you see.