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

Pregnant with Meaning

The Lies
The photographs circulate worldwide—a bloodied pregnant woman fleeing a Mariupol maternity hospital bombed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But Russian officials and media immediately go on the attack. Pro-Kremlin Telegram channels announce the photos are staged. The charges are picked up by official Russian media and amplified by tweets, replies, retweets, shares. They say Marianna Vyshemirsky, the woman pictured, is an actor, her injuries stage makeup. (Note: Russian and Ukrainian name spellings vary.) Some Russian allegations go so far as to claim that Marianna played two women in the maternity hospital “scene”—the fleeing woman and another critically injured pregnant woman being carried on a stretcher across debris outside the building.

The Facts
The photographs are accurate straightforward photojournalism. Marianna Vyshemirsky, age 29, was in the maternity ward at Mariupol Hospital No. 3 on Wednesday March 9, 2022.  She awaited the arrival of her daughter when the hospital was bombed by Russian forces. After the first in a series of explosions, Marianna pulled a blanket over her head. “You could hear everything flying around, shrapnel and stuff,” she told BBC.

Wearing polka-dotted pajamas, face smeared with blood, Marianna was photographed fleeing the ruined building by Associated Press photographer Evgniy Maloletka. Two days after the attack, Marianna, in a different hospital but still in her blood-stained clothes, gave birth to a baby girl, Veronika. “I want to wish everyone on Earth that your children do not know the word ‘war’.”

(As the story spread around the world, the photographs became the focus of a concerted Russian disinformation campaign. The initial Russian claim: Marianna, an Instagram beauty blogger, used her makeup skills to simulate cuts and blood, a forehead slash. AP photographer Evgniy Maloletka is a propagandist who conspired to fake the photos. From there, Russian disinformation piled up like snow falling over a landscape. The hospital was non-operational. It was occupied by the neo-Nazi-linked Ukrainian nationalist Azov regiment. The hospital was not hit by Russian planes but shelled by Ukrainian forces.)