Author

Daniel Ashley

Date of Award

2004

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Howard Segal

Second Committee Member

Richard Judd

Third Committee Member

Marli Weiner

Abstract

Recently we have seen an explosion of tools in which visual images may be manipulated. Digital cameras, both still and moving, scanners, and digital retouching software have made it possible for even the amateur photographer to create false images. Today, it is getting increasingly difficult to tell if the images you see in newspapers or on the television broadcasts are real or fabricated. A photographer in the Iraqi desert during a shooting war, with a notebook computer and a graphics program, can fabricate the news. A computer owner places a man on the top of the World Trade Center as a plane is flying in to it, sends an e-mail and an urban legend is born just hours after the tragedy. History and memory are being fabricated for fun and profit by both our news sources and our neighbors. We are in a time when events happen and are displayed on our televisions or on a web site at breakneck speeds. We are hard pressed to know what is real or what is created for effect. This creates a need for constant skepticism by the viewer. But research shows that this need for skepticism is not new, but has been present from the very invention of photography in 1839. The methods of creating one photograph from many, or a composite photograph were available from nearly the birth of photography. Photographers who captured images of the Civil War were primarily portrait photographers and approached their work without a photojournalist's code of ethics that we expect from today's photographers. Rather they approached their subjects with an artist's eye. Prior to the Civil War the role of a photographer in a war had no real definition. Photojournalism as we currently know it did not exist. Were the Civil War photographers' historians or artists? This lack of a clear definition of the photographers' role is a fact that must remain in our minds when viewing and utilizing these photographs. The freedom of Civil War era photographers to create composite photographs or to create both an image and the details of the image completely from imagination was unrestricted. Recent studies have shown that memory is very malleable. Early research into eye-witness memory is indicating that when a photograph is employed with a suggestion, the chance of creating a false memory doubles to nearly one half the time. If a veteran of a Civil War battle were shown a photograph that was completely false but told that it was true, it is possible for a false memory to be created for the veteran. The memory would seem so real to the veteran that he could not distinguish it from a real memory. It is well known that the photographs taken of the Civil War were displayed very soon after they were taken. It is also known that photographers enhanced these images for commercial reasons, sometimes fabricating the circumstances of how and when the photograph was taken. This could lead to erroneous interpretation of history.

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