An Op-Ed at the NYT ruminates about photos and falsification of them for political purposes.
I used to be the director of an archive that contained a photo archive, and we gave thought to matters of authentication, verification, and uses of photographs. I always claimed that while indeed one picture can be worth one thousand words, it's never clear which thousand words, since pictures, contrary to common wisdom, as a general rule tell us very little about anything, unless we know their context.
This is a serious issue when dealing with people seeking to discredit Israel. Take, for example, this recent item at Lawrence of Cyberia.
The caption given by faux-Lawrence is "An Israeli settler boy prevents a Palestinian woman from passing in the street as Israeli troops stand and watch."
Well, no, not really.
Remember, this is a snapshot, which means a specific instant, frozen. Had the picture been made 10, or 5, or even one single second earlier, or later, the scene would have been different. So while we don't have the full series, only this single instant, let's look at it carefully and see if we can imagine.
Both the woman and the boy are in motion. They are approaching one another. A second earlier they were further apart, and perhaps three seconds earlier they may not even have been on colliding trajectories. By this instant the Arab woman is clearly already aware of the boy, as her eyes, focussed on him, indicate; however, the positioning of her legs indicates she's still in full stride, and if the boy intends to block her, she doesn't seem aware of it. In any case, she hasn't stopped yet.
What about a second later, and three? Perhaps she simply continued walking, and the boy moved aside, or he didn't but she brushed him aside, or perhaps he did manage to stop her even though this isn't yet visible, and at that point one of the soldiers intervened and told him to desist, or arrested the women, or opened fire at the cameraman... all sorts of things could have happened, and the one described in the caption is no more plausible than any of the others. What is somewhat implausible is that the soldiers merely looked on. In this particular snapshot, the entire incident - if it's an incident at all - is about 1-2 seconds old, and the soldiers have not yet taken it in nor done anything. But that says exactly nothing about what they did once the incident did register - if it developed into an incident at all.
Here's another part of the story that faux-Lawrence doesn't tell us, and most likely doesn't know, and certainly doesn't care. Those very soldiers got up early that morning, and patrolled all day long until late in the evening, dealing throughout the day with many incidents, real ones, not like this hypothetical one. Hebron in 2004 was an extraordinarily tense place, with armed men on both sides, and people getting killed on both sides. After long, tense and exhausting days, the soldiers got back to base, but rather than showering and going to sleep because the following day would require their full attention again, they trooped into a big room and talked with their captain. Every evening, for about an hour around midnight, they'd go over everything that had happened during the day; they'd recount what they had faced, how they had responded, and they'd evaluate their actions. Had they been too harsh? Not firm enough? Had they endangered themselves, or perhaps inflicted unnecessary damage? One evening, for example, they decided, following an analysis of the specific events of that day, that while being stoned was not dangerous enough to justify their shooting, when someone had tried to throw a metal bed frame onto them from a roof in a narrow alley, that was life threatening, and it was justified that they used live fire to make him stop.
How do I know all this, you ask? Because Meir, my son, was there at the time. No, he's not in this picture, and actually he didn't arrive in Hebron until somewhat later that year, but I remember discussing it with him at the time. The actions of that captain, cutting his soldier's sleep each night to train them in the reality of waging a moral war while not losing it, made a deep impression on me. On Meir too, so far as I could tell.
Now take those facts - for facts they are, not interpretations - and superimpose them on the photo, and see if you think faux-Lawrence knows what he's talking about, or if he cares.