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Building the truth

This photograph is anonymous and taken in September 1940 in London during the Nazi bombing in the Second World War. It seems an unbelievable situation: three people at the Holland House library having a look at the books from the shelves that have miraculously survived from the bombs. It is almost sure that the photographer asked these three characters to be placed in aesthetically calculated positions and pretend to be absorbed by the literature that escaped from the destruction. The result on the eyes gives indeed a strong information about the ravages of the war.

We could now start a long debate about the level of truth that this picture has. Is this photojournalism? Or is it a definitive manipulation?

We could mention other suspected cases like the legendary Republican soldier photographed during the Spanish Civil War just when he was shot by Robert Capa (some people argue that the soldier was only faking a fall during a training), the flag planted by American soldiers in Iwo Jima captured by Joe Rosenthal or the image taken by Yevgeny Khaldei in Berlin just freed by the Soviet troops in 1945.

Some critics say that only starting with the Vietnam War is it virtually certain that none of the best-known photographs were set-ups.

But to be honest, I’m not convinced. Asking a tennis player to bit his medal or a couple of politicians to shake hands for second or third time… are situations that could also be considered set up.

This sort of photographs shows a reality that for many people is made up and a cause of anger. Some manuals on ethics reject this way, but certainly it is practiced daily.

And I’m not going to to cast the first stone.

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