- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Press; First Edition edition (September 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594203016
- ISBN-13: 978-1594203015
- Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 1 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography Hardcover – September 1, 2011
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"Morris brings an insatiable and contagious curiosity throughout to the convolutions that arise between art and truth telling."
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"...Morris's book feels less like traditional photography criticism than like the novels of W. G. Sebald, which are similarly obsessed with truth, memory and war. We get odd, absorbing pictures of Mayan ruins, of Picasso and his mistress, of the high heels worn by Morris's tour guide in Crimea: shanks, shoes, a shadow (presumably the photographer's) falling across the once boot-trodden road. Like extra problem sets in a textbook, these photos offer us additional opportunities to practice the art of looking, while simultaneously multiplying the scale of, as Morris's subtitle puts it, 'the mysteries of photography.'"
-New York Times Book Review
"Believing Is Seeing is an important book: It reminds us, at a time when it is remarkably easy to manipulate images and we are daily inundated with more and more of them, to ask: 'What, after all, are we looking at?'"
-Wall Street Journal
"[A]n elegantly conceived and ingeniously constructed work of cultural psycho-anthropology wrapped around a warning about the dangers of drawing inferences about the motives of photographers based on the split-second snapshots of life that they present to us. It's also a cautionary lesson for navigating a world in which, more and more, we fashion our notions of truth from the flickering apparitions dancing before our eyes."
-Los Angeles Times
"...simultaneously bewildering and thrilling, like finding a fathomless secret world hidden behind the seeming simplicity of everyday life."
"Morris' assiduous and profound inquiry into the relationship between reality and photography is eye-opening, mind-expanding, and essential in this age of ubiquitous digital images."
-Booklist (starred review)
"Students of photography-and fans of CSI-will find this a provocative, memorable book..."
About the Author
Errol Morris is a world-renowned filmmaker-the Academy Award- winning director of The Fog of War and the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Award. His other films include Standard Operating Procedure; Mr. Death; Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control; A Brief History of Time; and The Thin Blue Line.
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The style of the book reminded me of a Studs Terkel book -- he interviews people who have some relationship to each of a half-dozen photographs that comprise the nominal topics for the book's chapters. The interview approach keeps the material accessible and rather chatty, even when it delves into arcana of image processing or forensic analysis of photographs. AFAICS, there is no main point that the book is trying to put forth. Rather, it is a series of ruminations on the topic of photographs as historical (or news) artifacts.
I thoroughly enjoyed the explorations, in the way that I enjoyed the movie "My Dinner with Andre" -- I would have liked to have been present during the interviews, and reading the book is the next best thing. There are times when I was less than convinced of the correctness of points being made -- for example, the big conclusion of the first photographs examined was that it is the accidental and unimportant aspects of a photograph that are the reliable indicator of truth within it. While there may be some validity to that observation, there was also considerable value in the alternative ideas that were examined along the way.
Morris' expectation that there should be one irrefutable standard for establishing truth in a photograph was what was flawed, not the particlar standards that were put forward. The fact that they all led to the same conclusion was a much more reliable basis for believing that conclusion than any one of them in isolation, including the one he finally settled on.
But the value of ths book is not that it presents unassailable conclusions. Rather, it is in the questions with which it chooses to wrestle. If you have any interest in photo journalism, documentary photography, or history, this book will be an engaging exploration of ways in which photography can enlarge our appreciation of historical events and the ways in which it may be an impediment to that appreciation. It is well worth a read.