Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Five notable books on photography and reality

Errol Morris is an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker. He has directed nine films, including The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line, and most recently Tabloid.

His new book is Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography.

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, he named five notable books on photography and reality, including:
by Michael Frassanito

Let’s get to the five books you’ve chosen, beginning with Michael Frassanito’s attempt to stitch together the history of the Battle of Gettysburg using photographs. Tell us about Gettysburg: A Journey in Time.

I was hard-pressed to come up with what kind of a list to give you guys. But it did occur to me that an attempt to reconnect with what we are looking at when we look at photographs is at the heart of the book that I've just written. So I thought I’d give you books that have attempted to do something along the same lines – books that come from kindred spirits.

Frassanito was obsessed with Gettysburg and with reconnecting photographs of the Civil War to the circumstances under which they were taken. Through this obsessive quest, he reconnects the photographs to actual geographic places and reorders them to reflect the real sequence of events. It's a deeply fascinating enterprise and I was inspired by his work.

In your film Standard Operating Procedure you undertook a similar project, reconstructing the history of Abu Ghraib through snapshots taken by the soldiers who policed the prison. At the same time you explored how photographing the abuses altered history. What did you learn about photography by making that film?

So many things. Yes, those photographs certainly altered the course of history. I also learned that they're among the most widely-distributed, widely-viewed photographs in history, on a par with the Zapruder film [the amateur footage of John F Kennedy’s assassination].

Another book I would like to mention is Josiah Thompson's Six Seconds in Dallas [about the Kennedy footage]. It's an early example of an attempt to do just what we're talking about – piecing together reality through photography, or in this case film. Thompson was a Kierkegaard scholar at Yale who went on to become an expert on what might be the most widely-seen piece of film in history. Not a still but a movie. Thompson attempted to analyse that film and reconnect it with reality. You would think that six seconds should be easy to interpret, but it turns out to be nothing of the sort. It evolves into a rabbit hole about the relationship between photography and reality.
Read about another book Morris tagged.

--Marshal Zeringue