Photography: truth or lie?

Since its inception, it is the invention that most influences us on a daily basis. Photography,  officially born in 1839, is today the means of expression and communication without which we  could live. 

Social networks ask us for more and more data and many of these are often images, ours or of  moments we are living. Even artificial intelligence, which steals images from the web and recreates  new ones, needs data, especially photographs. So its importance is very clear, it tells us who we  are, in it we seek our identity to deliver the best image of ourselves to our friends, relatives, lovers  and more generally to our followers. Anxiety about the transience of life is at the basis of the  photographic instinct. We want to leave our image in time, and we devour others, immersed  in  hours and hours of our precious time on the web, surfing in the company of images. 

Photography  is  less  and  less  a  cognitive  process  that  offers  answers,  but  remains  a  language  for  asking  questions about the world 
- Luigi Ghirri 

In the photographic act, the photographer, immortalising the moment, transcends it and covers it  with a spiritual aura that goes beyond the limits of physical mortality. The photograph, therefore,  satisfies the need to replace the object, through a faithful copy. We have a constant nostalgia for  reality but at the same time we are afraid of it and we try to channel it into something we can  control. Photography represents the sobered manifestation of embalming, of the need for what is  dead to remain among us as much as possible. 

That vaguely frightening thing that is in every photograph: the return of the dead. 
- Roland Barthes 

The ‘authentic’ photographic image not only reflects the external world or at least a part of it, but  constantly projects the author’s inner world. We can, therefore, also affirm through the many  authors who have become spokespersons, that photography since its inception, is the instrument  of truth, or rather it was. Having a photo with an idol or of an event meant having proof, telling a  truth. But is that still the case now? I’ll tell you, no, it’s not. It is not  because, through  various  projects by some artists and the advance of technology, ever more complex,  sophisticated  and  more faithful to the reproduction of reality software for image processing has emerged. It seems a  paradox, but the Spanish artist Joan Fontcuberta carries forward the idea that it is the  photographer, just like a deity, who chooses whether to tell the truth or whether to lie. 

In his book, The  fury  of  images published by Einaudi in Italy, Fontcuberta  places  three  stages  of photographic expression, the first is the impulse to document, the second is self-affirmation (through the selfie), the third, a broader category brings together purposes of the photography, in addition  to  the  utilitarian,  celebratory  and  introspective  one,  we  find  the  seductive, erotic or pornographic and political power of the image. Photography imposes itself and man progresses to  Homo photographicus, in this sense the digital age makes us all lovers of something. Photography  becomes discursive and a message to be easily sent in a chat. In the now historical reflection, photography is increasingly a complex element and today, a new art of contemporary man that  documents everything and presents itself to the world with its own personal proposal of faith to  believe or not, comes to mind, Kafka with “Nothing can deceive as much as a photograph”. This  promise of fidelity, first broken by  photo editing  software  and  now  by  artificial  intelligence  sites such as Dall-e or Midjourney, Dream, StarryAI, Imagen, and Parti, goes to the aid of those who do  not want to give in to releases and the use of copyright for the protection of copyright, according to the theory that these works are the result of thousands of artists, photographers and therefore  common works. 

Photography is truth, and cinema is truth 
twenty-four times a second. 
- Jean-Luc Godard

The question that comes to mind is how to separate reality from its faithful reconstruction when  more and more proofs are asked of us in certain situations? Everything has to be put back into  play. 

In the book Joachim  Schmid  and  the  photographs  of  others  published  by  Johan & Levi,  the  artist  places himself in the middle of the discussion addressed so far and with one level less, I could say,  that of printed photography, today almost a rarity and only for amateurs and collectors, so, on the  one hand, we find the idea of the Duchampian readymade, on the other that of the “death of the  author” formulated by Roland Barthes. Having investigated all the photographic practices  widespread on a mass level and all the different languages connected to them, Joachim Schmid is  probably the person who in recent decades has seen, but above all used, more images  than any  other man in the world (apart from the artificial intelligence). And so his new, ironic motto today is:  “Please don’t stop taking pictures”. 

Camera. Centro Italiano per la Fotografia The Many Lives of Erik Kessels exhibition. Turin, 2017 Photo Andrea Guermani

Considering  this  series  of  rediscovered  photographs  as  “a  museum  of  photographic  waste”,  the project redefines the genre of street photography. Most of the photographs were  intentionally  thrown  away,  often  torn.  Today  the  act  of  throwing  away  a  photo  hardly  happens,  because  the speed with which we  face  a  large  part  of  our  life  no  longer  allows  the  affection  of  the  object portrayed on  paper.  We  therefore  consider  that  this  reflection  started  from  a  question: does  photography lie? “The lie – explains Fontcuberta – is a conscious will to divert the word from the  facts. The camera is just a tool.” Without investigating the motivations that lead to the desire to lie  or to create fiction, the next point of this reflection on photography is related to collecting. What is  the collector’s need today? Is the fear of reproduction always valid? Just like a lover who wants to surround himself with many loves, we could say that the collector demands attention, he wants in a selfish act  to be  remembered and  to have everything  for himself. Susan Sontag  said Collecting photography is collecting the world. S.S – About photography. 

In addition to private collections, which rarely or rarely show the pieces in their possession to the  public, the public collections of museums have wider possibilities of being seen through travelling  exhibitions. This is why I want to tell you about MUFOCO, the only public museum of  contemporary photography in Italy, with an important heritage consisting of a photographic  archive and a specialist library. 

Camera. Centro Italiano per la Fotografia Around Ai Weiwei Photographs exhibition.Turin, 2016 Photo Andrea Guermani

MUFOCO. The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Cinisello Balsamo near Milan,  Italy,  founded  and  opened to the public in 2004, has a photographic heritage of over 2 million images, organized in  over 40 photographic collections in which more than 1,000 Italian and foreign authors are  represented, active from the Second World War to the present day. Furthermore, the museum has  the largest specialist library which has 21,000 volumes. 
There are other important centers for photography in Italy, but the MUFOCO is the first public  museum, developed  by  an  international  scientific  committee.  Over  the  years  it  has  become  a  national point of reference for the conservation of photography, cataloguing, digitization and  dissemination. Among the museum’s many notable international guests have been Joan  Fontcuberta, Martin Parr and Joachim Schmid. 
Finding itself on the outskirts of Milan, it has made its “peripheral” location, an early outpost of  the cultural decentralization demands of the late 1990s, a point of identity and strength, an  opportunity to experiment with a new idea of a museum, dialogic, in flux, and inclusive in its being  militant.

The  Museum has  promoted  and  still  promotes  publicly  commissioned  projects, to enrich  the  collections and together contribute to the development of contemporary photographic culture, an  objective also pursued through scouting activities and support for youth creativity. Many of the most ambitious activities in these areas have been possible thanks to the constant activity of participation of state bodies and private individuals such as banking foundations. 
The Museum of Contemporary Photography welcomes more than 4,000 students who come to the  Museum each year from various school levels, from primary school to secondary school, up  to academies, and offers education in photography aimed at all levels, thanks to guided tours, thematic itineraries, courses, workshops, itineraries for summer campuses. 
Partnerships provide young people with life skills and educational resources. To this end, MUFOCO  has established collaboratively designed programs with schools, associations, and community based organizations throughout  the  city to  teach photography, its  language,  and  its  history.  The dialogue that the image triggers allows students to combine words and awareness with what they see, thus learning to speak in public with the aim of promoting self-esteem, skill development and consequently social change. Each program maintains its own unique focus,  typically  including photography assignments, analytical assignments, theme-based personal development  discussions, related slide presentations, critiques, field  surveys, and artist visits. These  programs culminate in presentations or small exhibitions celebrating  student achievements, such as  the  exhibition Contemporary Panoramas and Transforming Places. 
The archive of the Museum of  Contemporary Photography  has  more  than 60,000 digitized  and  catalogued images, including  a  portrait  of  Annie  Leibovitz  by  Robert  Mapplethorpe  among  the  great names in international photography. 

Camera. Centro Italiano per la Fotografia Camera Pop exhibition.Turin, 2018 Photo Andrea Guermani

CAMERA. Another important place for photography is CAMERA in Turin, Italy, an international project born in  autumn 2015 with a large private partnership, (as stated on the site) which wants to increasingly  affirm its connection with the territorial system: a single pole, dedicated to photography, able  to  strengthen the link between Piedmont and Italy with the main world realities by promoting  photography in an open and creative dialogue with artists and institutions. 
The objective of disseminating photography is aimed at a wide audience, articulated by type, age  and geographical area. 
CAMERA is thus a platform for exhibition, production, archiving, training, meeting and debates  around photography: a place rooted in the territory and international at the same time, it is located within  the block of Santa Pelagia, in the building where  the Regia Opera della Mendicità opened the first free schools in the Kingdom of Sardinia. The location is in the city centre between Piazza Vittorio Veneto and Piazza Castello, a few steps from the Mole Antonelliana and many other  museums and galleries. The original layout, made up of seven large rooms in sequence flanked by a long corridor with vaulted arches, was the starting point for working on the transformation of the  historic environments in order to design, with the Camerana & Partners studio, a  contemporary  exhibition space suitable for also hosting activities related to teaching and meetings with the public. 
With an exhibition area of almost 2,000 square meters, at least three main exhibitions and a series  of complementary exhibitions are organized every year, alternating Italian and international  experiences. The exhibition programming deals with the different genres and different practices of  photography, today increasingly in dialogue with the other disciplines of art and with realities active in the dissemination of culture, nationally and internationally. All exhibitions are produced or co-produced by CAMERA, in association with other Italian and international institutions.

Also in Italy, a new reality dedicated to photography arises, in Venice, on the Island of San Giorgio  Maggiore, the new exhibition and research centre ‘Le Stanze della Fotografia’ opens to the public,  in the Halls of the Boarding School of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, with the extensive and complete  Ugo Mulas retrospective. The photographic operation, curated by Denis Curti. 
The joint initiative of Marsilio Arte and the Giorgio Cini Foundation intends to continue the journey  begun in 2012 at the Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice, in the belief that photography must also have its  own specific home in Venice.

Camera. Centro Italiano per la Fotografia On the Verge exhibition.Turin, 2022 Photo Antonio Jordán

In France
Jeu De Paume. Moving west, a large and important reality dedicated to contemporary art and photography is the  Jeu De Paume center, subsidized by the French Ministry of Culture; which benefits from  the  support of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture, a privileged patron. It is chaired by Alain Dominique  Perrin and directed by Quentin Bajac.  All  the activities of  the  Jeu de Paume were born  from a profound desire  for  transversality in  the  study of visual and image culture, the research or reinvention of meaning in all fields of thought.  The topics  addressed are explored in the exhibitions  or  by  dealing  with  new  themes,  through  conferences, seminars and conventions.  With its modular educational space, the  Jeu de Paume responds to the expectations linked to its  activities and confirms  its  ambition to constitute, for  all types of public, an active platform  of resources and proposals around image and history education of performance and visual arts. On the Internet, since 2007, the Jeu de Paume has wanted to broaden its field of experimentation  and research by developing an online creative space, whose programming brings together artists’ projects created specifically for the web or thematic exhibitions entrusted to curators specialized in  digital arts. 

MEP Maison européenne de la photographie Zanele Muholi exhibition. Paris, 2023 Curated by Laurie Hurwitz and Victoria Aresheva Photo Tadzio

Maison européenne de la photographie. The Maison européenne de la photographie is another important Parisian centre for contemporary  photographic art located between the Marais district and the bank of the Seine river. The centre,  opened in 1996, is housed in the Hotel Henault  de  Cantore,  built-in  1706 in  Rue  de Fourcy. The  Maison includes an exhibition centre, where thousands of photographs are exhibited, a large  library, which collects 30,000 books and 400 periodicals on photography, including some rare  editions; an auditorium, where numerous conferences and screenings are hosted; a video library,  which features nearly 750 films about photography; a specialized bookshop and an intimate and  welcoming Café. 

MEP. Maison européenne de la photographie Zanele Muholi exhibition. Paris, 2023 Curated by Laurie Hurwitz and Victoria Aresheva Photo Tadzio

In England
The Photographers’ Gallery. Situated in the heart of Central London, at the gateway to Soho, The Photographers’ Gallery (TPG)  is the UK’s foremost centre for the presentation and exploration of photography in all its forms and  home to an international community of photographers. 
Open 7 days a week, TPG presents a diverse and critically acclaimed program of exhibitions,  events, talks, workshops and courses, as well as offering a unique, specialist bookshop, a dedicated  space for the discovery and sale of photographic prints and a tranquil café. Established in London’s  Covent Garden in 1971, the Gallery has been instrumental in championing the  pivotal  role  of photography in culture and society, and in securing its position as a leading art  form, through an  inspiring and diverse program of exhibitions, lectures, events, workshops, courses and other  activities for anyone interested in photography and its place in the world. 
The mission is to support photography for all, while the vision is to stimulate greater understanding and engagement with its value to society and culture. 
The centre aims to be the UK’s leading photography gallery with international impact. To be  the  driving force behind the debate and new thinking on the role of the photographic image in today’s  society. Deliver innovative learning, diversity and excellence. Ensure long-term sustainability for  the gallery and all its activities 
This centre aims to lead the way in showcasing  the best of photography  for all audiences and  to  ensure international relevance; encourages passionate debate and new thinking about the role of  the photographic image in today’s society, through innovative learning programs and ensures that  the Gallery continues to thrive and inspire future generations. 
Photography is important and that the stories it tells should be accessible to all, regardless  of interest level or where you are from. In Spring 2022, a new partnership with Westminster Council, Soho Photography Quarter, was launched as a way to make our work even more visible and continue to nurture the creative energy of the Soho neighbourhood. 
These museums are places for questions, where technological, financial and digital advances have  increasingly transformed everyone into photographers; and where a single image can affect  change with unprecedented speed and force, exploring, understanding and decoding images has  never been more important. 

The three words on which these bodies work every day are
Museum: (What is a museum today?  And if it makes sense that it exists, without taking it for granted) 
Photography: we have seen the connections, the questions and the myriad of answers that are still  too open. 
Contemporary: What it means to be contemporary (what it means to preserve a contemporary  heritage which is at the  same time a lens, like photography, to observe and simplify reality and  glimpse the future) 

Perhaps better than other languages, photography contains the past, the present and the  future,  therefore memory, and a message for those who will come later.

Marika Marchese

I have been living and working in Milan since 2016 where I teach and write about contemporary art. I follow my passion for art always, not only for my career, but also for my hobbies, in fact, I define myself an art lover. I also love to travel and read. I have been writing for Made In Mind since 2017, I have been manage the Streams column since 2020.

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