“Our beliefs do not determine what is true or false. They do not determine objective reality. But they do determine what we see.”
In Believing Is Seeing, Errol Morris investigates the complex relationship between documentary photographs and the truth we assume they deliver. Best known as the gifted documentarian behind films such as The Fog of War, Standard Operating Procedure, and The Thin Blue Line, Morris has spent years pondering how authenticity, truth, and appearance converge and complicate one another. It is hardly surprising then that Morris’s analysis of documentary photography is insightful and accessible.
Errol Morris’s cinematic explorations often fixate on a specific figure or series of events. He then breathes life into the topic by artfully combining provocative interviews and extensive research. Believing is Seeing successfully incorporates this methodology while simultaneously deconstructing the very notion of documentary veracity. The book consists of essays, each one describing a case study in which documentary photographs created controversy, conflicting interpretations, or troubling implications. Morris elucidates both the context and reception of each image with interviews and archival research.
He also analyzes both contemporary and historical images, demonstrating that many of the same issues and questions have been recurring since the advent of photography. Whether the photograph was taken in 1855 during the Crimean War or in 2003 at Abu Ghraib, our collective tendency to equate an image with a finalized truth has been problematic. To borrow Morris’s succinct phrasing, “…photographs allow us to think we know more than we really do. We can imagine a context that isn’t really there.”