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John G. Morris: truth comes before beauty

an interview by Enrico Ratto – translation by Elisa Chisana Hoshi

John G. Morris, you saw the most important images of the 20th century pass through your office. Every image tells a story of people and places; does using a picture out of its context necessarily mean to fake it?

No, using a picture out of its context does not necessarily mean to falsify it. Maybe, the incorrect use of a caption or a description, an improper editing of the picture makes it false.

What’s the biggest case of photographic falsification that you came across?

In 1942, an AP photographer artificially created an entire battle scene in North Africa. But LIFE Magazine, for whom I was working at that time, proved that it was completely fake.

Does time also create fakes? Can a picture published two months after it was shot, for example, also assume a completely different meaning?

Actually, pictures get shot and used later very often, when they seem more appropriate according to the agenda. Most of the pictures are shot and archived and used at a later time. Sometimes this can modify and increase their meaning, but this certainly does not mean to falsify them.

Do you think that today there is a difference between images and photography?

Personally, I use both terms indifferently. If what you mean by this is that an image is a photo that has been modified or retouched, I simply don’t believe in using Photoshop for photojournalism.

Is photojournalism supposed to simply be a description of reality?

I think that the task of photojournalism is to tell the Story. For example, Robert Capa’s pictures of D-Day are the only ones that got saved that day; I personally edited them for the UK edition of LIFE Magazine. Despite being ruined and not at all clear, they don’t look abstract to me. They tell the Story perfectly.

A picture, is it beautiful or is it true?

When I look at a picture all I want to know is what the picture wants to tell me, its message: the truth comes before beauty.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA . Paris (France). September 12, 2009


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