Does The Camera Ever Lie?


Written by Siobhan Morrin
22 Monday 22nd November 2010

Throughout history, images have been important in conveying messages – from providing information, to shaping people’s opinions. Drawings and paintings are very clearly controlled by their artist, not necessarily portraying an actual occurrence; photography though, provides a snapshot of an event happening in reality. They say the camera never lies, but this doesn’t mean that photographs are straightforward. Inspired by a talk at the Human Rights Action Centre on photojournalism, Don’t Panic has selected some of the most iconic photos of the past decade and looks at their significance in popular perceptions.

Possibly the most significant event in the Western world this decade, 9/11 left numerous iconic images. The image of two monoliths on fire, smoke pouring from the holes in their sides, and their eventual collapse were jawdropping.
More human though, were the images of people falling from the building. Seeing the tiny bodies against the towers as they fell seemed somehow more horrifying than actual collapse. One photo became representative of many, showing one man jumping to his death. Many criticised its publication as ‘voyeuristic’ and disrespectful, but it has still become representative of that day.
The Falling Man by Richard Drew, taken on September 11, 2001.
The second photo occurred as a direct consequence of the first. Although perhaps not as graphically shocking, the image of the prisoners kneeling in their orange jumpsuits still provoked outrage worldwide. Mouths covered, deprived of hearing, sight and touch, this was the first sign that the war on terror was turning sour.
This image of the sensory deprivation of detainees confirmed many people’s suspicions about Guantanamo Bay, and must have shocked many more. The land of the free was tainted, and the orange jumpsuits have become synonymous with torture.
If Guantanamo had been shocking, more was to come. In 2004 pictures appeared of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The candidness of the degradation just amazed, with top soldiers grinning and sticking their thumbs up, next to contorted and naked prisoners. One of the images everyone remembers is the pyramid. Iraqi prisoners had been forced to create a human pyramid, completely naked except for the sacks over their heads. The grotesque image is compounded by the two US soldiers behind them grinning. Many people were shocked that young female soldiers were involved. The images shook the world’s perception of the US armed forces, and particularly the war in Iraq.
The infamous pyramid picture from Abu Ghraib prison, 2004.

The photo of a blonde three-year old, seen around the world in 2007 is iconic in a very different manner. Madeleine McCann has become the poster image of missing children and her image is now known globally. Seen at airports and stations around Europe for years, it’s now unlikely that many people wouldn’t know her. The photograph is also symbolic of one of the headline topics of this decade – fear of paedophilia. Tabloids have chosen to make it one of their top issues, turning the inevitable photos of children involved into strangely iconic images.

Finally, a photo for the future. The student protest of November 2010 has produced hundreds of images, the most striking being those taken at Millbank, Conservative Party HQ. Right now there are so many associated with the event that one image can’t be said to be the icon. It seems certain that the event will become iconic, whether as a one off, or the start of the protests against cuts. In years to come too, there will be certain images that are symbolic of ‘the day the students rioted.’
‘Does the camera ever lie?’ is a panel discussion taking place at the Human Rights Action Centre on Tuesday November 23. See the Amnesty website for more details.

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at and we will respond asap.