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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Quick Quotes: Eddie Adams

"Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world.  People believe them, but photographs lie, even without manipulation.  They are only half-truths."

Eddie Adams

And while I am quoting Eddie Adams, why not make it a twofer.....

"If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, if it rips your heart out, that's a good photograph"

Eddie Adams


Two quotes that say a lot.  I have always been particularly interested in the perception of truth in photography (see my article "Truth and Photography").  I love explaining to those who are unaware that even in the 'pre-Photoshop era' photographs could be heavily manipulated in the darkroom. For example, one need look no further than Ansel Adams' photos which, while gorgeous, were significantly manipulated and not a true representation of what was in front of him. None other than the great Bruce Barnbaum said (I guess this qualifies as making this quote post a threefer) "Photography has often been equated with reality - what you see is what was there.  It becomes reality.  This is the reason people feel that Ansel's famous 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexixo' was a special moment in time, when, in fact, it's an image so greatly manipulated that it can be truthfully stated that the moment never occurred.  It was largely created.  The actuial moment was used as a starting point for the image, while the image is a dramatic alteration of the starting point.  It is a wonderful interpretation of that moment by Ansel."


Who was Eddie Adams?  It's not a name that most are familar with and he's not related to Ansel. Interestingly, at least to me, is the fact that he was born just down the road a bit from me, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. He died in 2004 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969.

Adams was, among other things, a combat photographer who covered, and survived, 13 wars. His best known photograph will be immediately recognized by anyone in the 50-70 age group; those who lived during the Vietnam War era:

© Eddie Adams, Saigon Execution

© Eddie Adams, Saigon Execution

Well this photo certainly rips your heart out.  But what about truth?

In 1998, Adams wrote about this image in Time Magazine. You might not anticipate what he had to say, I know I didn't. He wrote (taken from Wickepedia) "Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and GENERAL NGUYEN NGOC LOAN. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. ... What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?'.... This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn't taken the picture, someone else would have, but I've felt bad for him and his family for a long time. ... I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, "I'm sorry. There are tears in my eyes."

I would also like to bring up another issue to think about here.  I am not a fan of reality shows. In fact, you might call me an 'anti-reality show' person. I mean, I really don't get the genre. And one of the reasons is that once the camera is introduced (and, of course the participants know the camera is there) how real is it?  How can people's actions not be influenced by the fact that they know they are being filmed?  

In this vein, the famed photography critic Susan Sontag wrote the following about Adam's iconic image, "he would not have carried out the summary execution there had [the press] not been available to witness it". In this case maybe so and maybe not.  But I think it is hard to argue that the presence of the camera can, in some instances, change the behavior of those being filmed or photographed.

Well, I included a lot more than my usual for this Quick Quote post, but I think that there is a lot here to think about!