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

This Many Pictures

The Claim
The killer was transgender—the gunman who killed nineteen students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde Texas. Within hours of the May 24, 2022 attack, message board 4chan buttressed the transgender claim with an array of photos. Photographs of a dark-haired transgender woman circulated alongside images of the shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos. They bore some resemblance. They spread widely.

The Lie
The photos of the dark-haired transgender woman are “ripped”—lifted from varied web sources. Texas police confirm the gunman is Salvador Ramos, that he is male and dead. One transgender woman pictured is Sam, 20, of Georgia: “[I]t’s not me, I don’t even live in [T]exas” “He’s dead, how could it be me[?]”

Reddit user: “So you are saying they photoshopped the shooter’s face onto images of yours?” Reply: “No they just took my photos and used it to spread misinformation.”

Another Reddit user: “Do you share the same name as the person that did all this or something? I’m confused cause a lot of people are using your pictures.” Reply: “No [they’re] just transphobic and took the opportunity to attack me and other trans people in turn.”

Nonetheless, the claim that the shooter is transgender leaps immediately into the far-right echo chamber.

Stacy Washington, host on SiriusXM radio show, makes the case. “There is an overwhelming number of individuals who are posting images of this person, who was the shooter, and information about the nature of them being transgender.... We don’t have definitive proof, but I’d say, this many pictures? My goodness. There’s something going on here.”

The lie rages online. It is picked up by Alex Jones of Infowars and amplified by Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona. Gosar tweets that the shooter is a “transexual leftist illegal alien named Salvatore Ramos.” The evening of the shooting, entering “Salvador” in the Twitter search bar Tuesday night auto-populates with the suggestion “salvador ramos trans.”