In your house, there is a fireplace and, on its mantle, some well-framed pictures. In one of them your mother is smiling. She greets the photographer with her hand. You are in her arms, you are barely two years old. We can tell by your expression that you are not happy. Your father, the author of the image, will explain to you throughout your childhood that you had just had a huge whim. This photo, a little yellowed, was taken in the early 70s on the Italian beach of your vacation. You know the story because it is yours. You had spent two weeks of happiness at the Hotel Ermitage and you were sharing your room with your parents and older sister. It was there, in this pool surrounded by orange sunshades, that she learned to swim.
This story, repeated many times, is part of your memory, not because you remember the event, you were too young, but because it is part of the memory of your loved ones. And yet, if this instantaneous moment reflects reality, its context, as you will learn later, is more nuanced. You were upset, but so was your mother. She had just argued with your father over a trifling matter, an argument that he tried to dissipate by pretending it didn't exist, which your mother would blame him for throughout their marriage. In the end, this moment of bliss was not a moment of bliss.
If formally this photo was not faked, it was nevertheless rigged by its narrative.
Today, image manipulation has become the norm. Pierre never posts any landscape without first applying a filter that enhances the colors. In his country, the skies are always very blue and the clouds very white. Nadine always looks young, without those wrinkles that border her eyes. Retouching softwares are numerous, and often free.
If alteration is not formal, it is often material; photos are taken out of context or have a misleading or abridged caption.
A few years ago, a photo showing a child wounded by soldiers was shared thousands of times on social networks. However, this image, taken from the Tunisian director Chawki El Mejri's film, "The Kingdom of the Ants", had a caption that made it look like a real event in order to raise public awareness for a cause by playing on the emotion evoked by the image.
Seeing is no longer believable. One must: check the facts!
Some doctored images are famous because they have been relayed millions of times on social networks.
Here are a few examples:
Taken in 1934 by Robert Kenneth Wilson, this alleged image of the Loch Ness monster was published in the Daily Mail. Believe it or not, it remains controversial to this day. Some, demolished at the thought that the myth might collapse, continue to believe as ironically as ever that Nessy exists, despite the fact that it has never shown itself since and without taking into consideration the fact that a human being able to go and take selfies on Mars, should be able to flush an animal of this size out of a large puddle.
This photo, supposedly taken a few seconds before the crash of one of the two planes in one of the twin towers was doctored by its author, Peter Guzli, who added the aircraft in the background of a photo taken in 1997.
This Image published in 2018 on Facebook had as a caption: “Boat of Italian migrants arriving in New York at the beginning of the 20th century ... " It aimed to denounce Italian policy towards migrants, recalling that at the beginning of the 20th century, the United States had welcomed its share of Italian immigrants. In fact, this photo taken at the end of the Second World War shows the Queen Elizabeth bringing American troops home.
So how to find out more?
First of all, before taking for granted any caption, do a reverse photo search on Google or TinEye for example. Copy the image's url address by right-clicking, or download the image and paste the link in the search bar. The search engine will find for you all occurrences where the photo in question has been used. If it appears in several different contexts and with different dates, beware!
There are many information verification sites such as Decodex that are worth checking out. Finally, there are many applications available to the general public to detect trickery in images.
Never trust the number of shares or likes. Editing is generally intended to make an image look sensational. And, since flesh is weak, we are more likely to be moved by this type of communication, which we are therefore inclined to share, than by banalities.
Conclusion: Check your sources!
In the meantime, I enjoy looking at photos of my ancestors animated by a software. I see my great-grandmother smiling at me and I maintain the illusion, but only for a brief moment, that I see her living. I dream of her jumping from her picture to the one of my great-grandfather from whom she has been separated for so long.
And as I finish this post, I look at my children blithely mixing their respective portraits, giving birth to an incestuous being who, thank God, will never exist.
Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko