Errol Morris has begun a series of blogs for the New York Times under the heading Zoom. As my favorite documentary filmmaker, Morris can do no wrong, and his latest venture offers a sneak peak into what I expect are the theoretical underpinnings of his work, but moreso, his latest project, “Standard Operating Procedure” (likely to hit theaters in 2008). While the first blog called “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” is about photographs and how meaning is attributed to them, it’s possible to read between the lines and see that Morris is commenting on the manipulation of meaning, particularly in the Bush White House, and perhaps I am extrapolating a little too much here, but the ultimate lack of impact of the Abu Ghraib photos.
“The idea that photographs hand us an objective piece of reality, that they by themselves provide us with the truth, is an idea that has been with us since the beginnings of photography. But photographs are neither true nor false in and of themselves,” he writes. “They are only true or false with respect to statements that we make about them or the questions that we might ask of them. The photograph doesn’t give me answers. A lot of additional investigation could provide those answers, but who has time for that? Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but there are two words that you can never apply to them: “true” and “false.””
After a single day, the blog has generated some 120 comments. And I’m not the only one to take a political message away from Morris’s project. As commenter Matthew Blum writes, “Errol Morris’ genius lies (no pun intended) in the fact (or fiction)–both in this essay on photographs as well as in his films–that truth and falsity can, and often is, manipulated either wittingly or unwittingly by those that seek to create–or shape–a version of events that adhere to the agenda of their own true or false “picture” of events. Propaganda? Exaggeration? Tomfoolery? Spin? Sounds like Politics and the current administration.”