More on FAQ #212

212. In the age of Photoshop, wouldn’t it be simpler for everyone to just not trust ANY photographs?

Simpler, yes. Realistic, no.

It would be unrealistic, for example, to expect large numbers of sane people to not “trust” photographs that they themselves take.

(They know their photographs are not reality but they still trust them.)

But it's not just their own photographs that most people are unlikely to start mistrusting.

For example, most people “trust” the resulting images when dozens of news photographers from around the world each take (and publish separately, each in their own part of the world) almost identical, essentially bland photographs of the same scene, like the obligatory group shot at a summit of world leaders.

Besides, trust often is not a “yes-or-no” type of thing; levels of “trust” are typically on a continuum or spectrum.

Viewers have different degrees of trust about different photographs.

Most sane people are always going to trust some photographs, starting with

> photos that they themselves take

— and then, decreasing in levels of trust as it winds out from there:

>> photographs taken in their presence by a friend or family member standing next to them; then

>>> photographs taken by others, in their presence, of the same scene at the same time; then

>>>> photographs taken by others of similar scenes at different times,

and so on.

Along that spectrum of decreasing trust are “photographs from one’s most-trusted news source” (which usually get the highest level of trust bestowed on photographs that are taken outside of one’s presence by people one doesn’t know)...

. . . extending all the way down the trust ladder to “laughably implausible photographs posted anonymously on the Internet” (probably the lowest rung in terms of trustworthiness if not amusement).


A healthy skepticism about impressive photographs is completely realistic (and in fact TCQ exists because of ever-increasing public skepticism about photographs).

But no society could survive very long if no one trusted any of its most “universal language” any time.