Last night I was looking at an art photography book in the university photo dept for maybe the 10th time. Usually when I flip through the book the Fae Richards photography series comes to my attention. The handling, composition, acting, and printing of the photos all are convincing of a Black Lesbian actress who never really existed outside the story of her snap shots. The authenticity of her smile and accurate fashion of early 20th century urban America gives me mixed feelings. Many reviewers of the work note its message of a lesbian being successful instead of dying unknown and sad.
But the series does not bring up LGBT history to mind, instead it haunts me that the these photos are forged and can easily be accepted at first view as factual. Even before digital photo, analog photos have had the ability to document and finalize history even if fabricated. The best known to me is Trotsky being pasted out of Soviet historical images…later the same would happen to Stalin after his death. I even entertain ideas about Stanley Kubrick staging photos for the apollo moon landing. Words and accounts don’t hold up to photographs in terms of evidence because a photo is a time based item. Light that was captured but without sound or movement of a sequential frame is forever a glimpse into a past moment in time. There can be nothing more true than a fragment of time but it is the thoughts and assumptions tied to images that decide what history it has. For the Fae Richards photos…it’s Fae Richards that make these photos what they are, other than that you’d only think it’s a young woman from another era. Maybe even less that these are just snap shots and not even set manipulated events. It’s scary that people will base their history more upon image than text I guess that’s why the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words derives from.