Are there any other visual mediums which have such a slippery relationship with ideas of truth, meaning and intent as photography?
Within the book, Another Way Of Telling, the photographer Jean Mohr offers some insight into his life with a camera. My favourite piece is entitled No Scoop. The short story details how Mohr found himself to be in the fairly unique position of photographing the Yugoslav and Polish leaders, Tito and Gomulka. This was a rare opportunity due to heavy press restrictions on journalists from the west. These press restrictions, and lack of western tourists, meant that the perception of communist countries in the west was one dimensional and relatively easy to control. Even for myself, growing up thirty years after Tito, I had the idea that all Russians were cold and sad, forever standing in queues at the latest branch of McDonalds to open in the latest, luckiest Russian city. Mohr duly snapped his images of Tito and Gomulka. They show two stylish and healthy men, framed by crowds of equally well dressed others, including a woman in an expensive and attractive dress.
Mohr’s pictures capture the truth. The event really happened. Tito and Gomulka did step out in front of Mohr’s camera. But yet this truth was not the one which Mohr’s editors wished to promote. Mohr’s images were not used until ten years later, when he became known as a socialist, as opposed to a communist, or even as a hero who defied Moscow. At the time, however, Mohr’s editors told him that, “communists must have scowling and threatening faces.” a perspective Mohr clearly failed to catch.
I was thinking on this as I was looking back on some of the images I made last Saturday night at my local theatre. The local actors’ group – The Otaki Players – were celebrating their 70th anniversary. As is the way with such events, there are images which need to be made. Arrivals. Speeches. Cake cutting. And then there are those images which are more interesting to me to make and which can’t be so easily defined. What would one make of the selection here? What do they say about the occasion and the people in them? Will what we take them to be grow and change over time as Mohr’s images of Tito did?