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CMA Thinker

Filtering the #Truth: Using Social Media to Interpret “Beyond Truth: Photography after the Shutter”

By Stephanie Foster, Interpretive Planner

Just how truthful is photography? The CMA’s exhibition Beyond Truth: Photography after the Shutter explores figurative scenes and portraits in which artists have altered the “truth” through postproduction techniques ranging from composite printing, multiple exposures, and handwork on negatives and prints to digital capture and manipulation. In the essay below, the CMA’s interpretive planner, Stephanie Foster, discusses the interpretative process and social media initiative #CMAbeyondtruth.

In this age of social media, we each have a face we prefer to show the world. Every time we make a choice about what to share with our friends and followers, we manipulate our own truth. Would you rather post a sleepy-looking selfie with bedhead or a bright-eyed selfie with smooth skin and a perfect smile? We’re not photo ready all the time, and that is when many of us choose to turn to filters or photo-editing software to help enhance what the world will see.

The exhibition Beyond Truth: Photography after the Shutter explores the truthfulness of the medium of photography from the late 1800s through the present day. While we may perceive photography to be more truthful than other media like painting and sculpture because of its capability to accurately mirror nature, photographers have long had the ability to alter a photo after the shutter snaps.

The idea of altering truth in photos is not only a contemporary concept. The earliest work in the exhibition, made by Henry Peach Robinson in 1885, may not appear to have been manipulated at first glance. However, Robinson created this image by combining three separate negatives into a single print, a technique known as combination printing.

Trevor Paglen, the artist responsible for the newest work in the exhibition, began the process of making the artwork Human Eyes (Corpus: The Humans) Adversarially Evolved Hallucination by creating two Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. He programmed the first to identify images of humans and then asked the second to create an image that contained the least amount of information necessary for the first AI to identify the image as human. The resulting photo is unsettling: two eyeballs float in a sea of fleshy tones.

Like the artists represented in the exhibition, many of us have the means to nearly instantaneously alter photos at our fingertips. To demonstrate this, and to more fully immerse visitors in the ideas the exhibition presents, the Interpretation team included a call to action: take a selfie and use photo-editing tools — filters, face-altering apps, or effects — to manipulate your image and create an alternate truth. Visitors are invited to post their photos to social media using the hashtag #CMAbeyondtruth, and then those images may be added to a video screen in the gallery, becoming part of the exhibition.

It has been so fun to see the visitor submissions as they appear in the gallery. We already knew how creative our visitors could be, but seeing their contributions in dialogue with the artworks and ideas in the exhibition has been an inspiring experience for our team.

When I first saw my own photo appear on the screen, I was really excited! It’s not every day I can say that my self-portrait hangs at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

But for the duration of Beyond Truth, it will. Yours can too. Visit the exhibition, look closely at the photographs, and go beyond the truth by altering your own photograph. The exhibition is on view in the Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Gallery through Sunday, May 26.

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