The most difficulty I get with my family photos is when I’m taking them. Some people always try and pose. Other people try and run. Others just want me to delete everything I take. Everyone knows what taking a photo means and is hyper-conscious of their image in a given shot.

Personal Propaganda

One of the current discussions online regarding photography is how much people trust it. A lot of this is tied in with the discussions about Photoshop—especially in regards to photojournalism and news photography, but also just the general increase in awareness of what occurs after a photo is taken.

In the trust discussion, we aren’t talking about how the photographs are taken, by whom, how they are displayed, or who sees them. The more those variables are narrowed down, the more likely people are to trust the results.* But if you look at the entire process? It’s pretty clear that people don’t trust it.

*Granted, even what seems like a narrow use case—for example, family photos displayed on Facebook for an audience of family friends—is not that straightforward. Each time Facebook messes with its privacy settings, everybody freaks out. Why? Can’t they trust their data?

I don’t think people know what photos mean in general. People know how to manipulate photos so that they mean what they want them to mean. And they are deeply distrustful of the medium since they know how it can be manipulated.

I’m always aware when I’m carrying a camera* about how other people are reacting to me. If I’m taking pictures of people** I’m even more aware since my subjects will often either pose or run away, or ask to chimp my result and insist I delete anything the don’t like. I’m very often not trusted until I’ve been around long enough to be trusted.***

*especially if I’m out with my son.

**typically family

***Another reason why I feel so strongly about how the identity of the photographer matters.


People want to control their own image: what is presented, how it is presented, and who sees it. It’s difficult to cede any of that control to someone else—especially the decision about who sees it. Right now there’s still a legacy of trust regarding who sees the photos. As we lose more and more control over who sees our images, I suspect that we’ll trust the ones we do see less too.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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