Exercise 3-12: Fictional Documents

Read the WeAreOCA blog post ‘Seeing is believing’.

Read all the replies to it then write your own comment, both on the blog page and in your own blog. Make sure you visit all the links on the blog post. Base your opinion on solid arguments and, if you can, refer to other contributions to the blog.

I am sure that the intention was to promote student interaction through these exercises which ask us to comment on posts on WeAreOCA when the course notes were written, however, the passage of time (7 years) since the initial blog post was written and the multitude of comments that have been made subsequently make responding in the way we are directed a time consuming and onerous task. There is much in the post that is of interest however, and it is this that I will focus on here.

The post raises the question, ‘seeing is believing, or is it?’ Using the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and how this was challenged due to the lack of visual evidence supplied. Navarro links this to the work of Spanish conceptual photographer Joan Fontcuberta whose work often invites the reader to question the visual construction of reality through manipulated images that are totally believable – his series ‘Deconstructing Osama’, which predates the assassination, playfully plays with the notion of photographic truth with Fontcuberta photoshopping himself into images disguised as Bin Laden. The conclusion Navarro reaches is that he personally does not care that there is no proof of Bin Laden’s death and that paradoxically, the reticence to release an image has done photography a lot of good by reminding us that it still has documentary value after all.

Sean O’Hagan (2011) discusses a number of the moral implications of the decision not to show Bin Laden’s body. The reason given by the Obama administration was that showing a graphic and violent image of someone shot in the head was because that is “not who we are.” There was also a very real fear that an image of Bin Laden could be used for propaganda purposes and result in further violence – something that the martyrdom of Che Guevara could confirm: “Photography, for better or worse, possesses this immediate power in a way that words – too reflective – and the moving image – too animated – do not. It is a moment, freeze-framed forever.” An interesting footnote to this event is the image that was chosen to be released by the Obama administration – a group picture of the President, Hilary Clinton and other advisors, watching the assassination live in the White House situation room. As O’Hagan notes – the Presidents stern gaze and Clinton’s shock and disbelief are visual representations of the tone that the US government wishes to present of resolve without celebration or gloating: “the often-overlooked power of great photography: to suggest rather than to shock.” It is a complex and fascinating image, an apparent candid document of an historic moment that if we were to be cynical, could be read as a carefully choreographed presentation of a particular narrative with the undoubted intention to be an aid to the political standing of everyone featured.


O’Hagan (2011) Osama bin Laden’s body: the world’s most incendiary image. The Guardian, 6th May 2011. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/may/06/osama-bin-laden-photograph-obama-body?cat=artanddesign&type=article [accessed 28th May 2018]

Navarro, J. (2011) Seeing is believing. WeAreOCA. Available at: https://weareoca.com/subject/photography/seeing-is-believing/ [accessed 10th May 2018]

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