An Amish Barn and the manipulation of reality

8:29 AM


"Amish Barn" by Jack Jeffers, 1980

The more I think about it, the more I realize photography is a complicated business – philosophically speaking.

The other day I went to an exhibition called "End of an Era: The Photography of Jack Jeffers" where the picture above called my attention. 

Its title is “An Amish Barn” and, apparently, the people who owned the barn in the picture contacted the photographer saying they weren’t Amish. The photographer then replied that he  liked that title and “that it was my decision to name my artwork as it appealed to me”.


Now, if that’s not mind blowing I don’t know what is. 

Photography is the art form that can reproduce reality most accurately. So, it's as if the camera is getting technically closer and closer to reality while the photographer is going further and further away from it.

He is calling a photograph "x" while at the same time saying that it is not "x". You might think this is not that big of a deal, because it's just a photograph in a museum. But what if the photograph was used in the newspaper or in an encyclopedia?

This doesn't surprise us anymore. Modern art in general doesn't want to have anything to do with reality and even photography seems to be following this path.

And I’m not even talking about Photoshop and the like. I’m talking about us accepting a declared manipulation of reality. 

Notice that the inaccuracy,  if we can call it that, is in the adjective Amish - the picture is still of a barn.  But couldn't you do the same with a noun? What if the photograph were called "Warehouse"? 

I’m not saying the photographer shouldn't call his photograph Amish. I even liked this photograph.

What I'm saying is: it is made it clear that the artist is entitled to manipulate reality. And that, ultimately, it is his call, not anyone else's.

Truth has become a matter of personal interpretation but not all interpretations have the same weight. It's not that we think artists have a better grasp of what reality is but we accept their prerogative that they can  shape reality as they see fit.

What do you think about the liberties the photographer took here?

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6 comments

  1. Whoa!! The guy want to make his own reality?? Why not take a pencil and DRAW his own Amish Barn? Well, as an amateur photographer, I would never do this. I can take a pic of, say, the Chrysler Bldg in NYC and say that it was the Empire State, but for sheer ignorance - I'm just kidding, I would never do this - but once I know the difference, I would change it. I wouldn't act like a stubborn child.

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  2. It's interesting you mentioned drawing. I thought about this, if it were a drawing or a painting, there would be less of a problem, because the artist has much more freedom, but a photograph? That's tricky... xx

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  3. Well, modern art is messed up. I saw a movie where there's a art exhibition and all the paintings are circles of differente colours and sizes and the names of the paintings are : ''The good bye'', Grandma is not coming for dinner'', ''Little cat running''. And that's really happening!! In the XX century the artists began to paint and write and compose for themselfs and for other artists, and i think that's where things started to go wrong...

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    1. Wow... What movie was that? I'd like to watch it!

      You are so right. Even though art seems accessible to more people nowadays, it is still very inaccessible in the sense that people can't connect to it. xx

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    2. I think the movie was '' i hate valentine's day'' with that ''my big fat greek wedding'' actress. The movie sucks. But that scene was nice. :)

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  4. The same is happening to music. Maybe that's why it's so easy to listen to Vivaldi, Bach & Beethoven and so hard to enjoy Schoenberg, Cage & Co. They write for themselves and their lot, not for people. People? Sheesh! They can listen to funk, rap, hip-hop ...

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