Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography

Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography

by Errol Morris


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Academy Award–winning director Errol Morris turns his eye to the nature of truth in photography

In his inimitable style, Errol Morris untangles the mysteries behind an eclectic range of documentary photographs. With his keen sense of irony, skepticism, and humor, Morris shows how photographs can obscure as much as they reveal, and how what we see is often determined by our beliefs. Each essay in this book is part detective story, part philosophical meditation, presenting readers with a conundrum, and investigates the relationship between photographs and the real world they supposedly record. Believing Is Seeing is a highly original exploration of photography and perception, from one of America’s most provocative observers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143124252
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/27/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 611,657
Product dimensions: 7.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Errol Morris is the author of the New York Times bestseller A Wilderness of Error and the Academy Award–winning director of The Fog of War, among other films, including Standard Operating Procedure; Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control; and The Thin Blue Line. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Believing Is Seeing 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Heart2Heart More than 1 year ago
In Believing Is Seeing Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris turns his eye to the nature of truth in photography. During the Crimean War, Roger Fenton took two nearly identical photographs of the Valley of the Shadow of Death-one of a road covered with cannonballs, the other of the same road without cannonballs. Susan Sontag later claimed that Fenton posed the first photograph, prompting Morris to return to Crimea to investigate. Can we recover the truth behind Fenton's intentions in a photograph taken 150 years ago? In the midst of the Great Depression and one of the worst droughts on record, FDR's Farm Service Administration sent several photographers, including Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans, to document rural poverty. When Rothstein was discovered to have moved the cow skull in his now-iconic photograph, fiscal conservatives-furious over taxpayer money funding an artistic project-claimed the photographs were liberal propaganda. What is the difference between journalistic evidence, fine art, and staged propaganda? During the Israeli-Lebanese war in 2006, no fewer than four different photojournalists took photographs in Beirut of toys lying in the rubble of bombings, provoking accusations of posing and anti-Israeli bias at the news organizations. Why were there so many similar photographs? And were the accusers objecting to the photos themselves or to the conclusions readers drew from them? My Review: For most people who look at articles in the newspapers, magazines or even books, when a picture accompanies them we are often looking at that picture and forming an opinion. Hand in hand with whatever the article states, we may buy into the story because what is being written about and what the picture show make a match in our brain. However what Errol Morris does in the book, Believing Is Seeing, is show a picture with the proposed article and how at times in history, they have been made to appear as though they were real, when in fact they were an image created to tie into the story. These are created to help influence what we read and what we see, so that the audience is more prone to believe it based not just on what they read but also what they see, even though at times the images are created and not really what is happening. Errol Morris uses many such examples of photos with one being a cow skull show over a dry and cracked land. In the article that accompanied the picture, the reader was made to believe that this photo was taken to show what was happening in the Dust Bowl era in order to get people to buy into Franklin Roosevelt's programs to aid the farmers even though the photo was staged. I received this book compliments of TLC Book Tours for my honest review and found the book an interesting read. Its hard to imagine that this type of marketing happens to use photos to pull at the emotional heart strings of people, but if it works, they will use it. Many such examples are shown through the book along with commentaries explaining how it was used. I would rate this a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Harlan879 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating and beautifully-produced, if somewhat under-edited, set of essays about photography and what we can know about a situation from those photographs. Errol Morris is an amazingly thoughtful person, with a great eye for both the importance of visual media and the stories that people tell.
cerfercat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating analysis of photography - what it is, what role it plays in society, the traits people associate with it, beliefs, truths, assumptions - in four acts. Errol Morris selects four photographs, or four scenes that are photographed, and examines the history and controversy of each. The book reads like a documentary film transcript (not surprising given Morris' occupation) and it is a surprisingly effective technique. The reader feels part of the conversation. This book really made me think; and I love the "excluded elephant" idea that all photographs edit something out/hide something as much as they reveal.
rivkat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Morris makes documentaries, and this is definitely a book written by a documentarian, which is not entirely a criticism. There are a lot of transcripts of long exchanges between him and people he calls up to talk to about various photos (which is actually not how he does his documentaries, where you almost never hear his side of the interview). The most interesting chapters of the book are about Abu Ghraib photos¿what does it mean to misidentify the famous hooded man, as the NYT did? Given that the man they misidentified was also imprisoned, was also tortured, why focus on whether the picture was of him? What about the photos of US military personnel smiling and giving thumbs-up signs in front of humiliated prisoners? When we see a social smile, we think it indicates pleasure even when it instead represents discomfort with nowhere to go. Morris has a lot of important stuff to say about framing, reality, and how we shape the meaning of images; he also has a lot of stuff to say about how he figured out which of two pictures of a battlefield was taken first, where a less obsessive person would have given you the answer and the reasoning without telling you all about all the unsuccessful attempts to figure it out in other ways.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago