Errol Morris’ blog post about the Photoshopped images of an Iranian missile launch attests to not only the changing ways of altered images, but also how experts are constantly administering one of two titles to photos: True or Fake. Recently two images were discovered taken in Iran, and distributed in Iran. The confusing thing is, why were they both posted? The first image (though relative date of posting is unknown) shows four missiles being launched from an Iranian test missile site, while the second image shows only three missiles being launched. So why were both images posted by an Iranian source? Why would someone Photoshop an image just to show one more missile launching? Who can we trust?
These photos represent, as John Malkovich would put it, “the idiocy of today.” It seems that society has become lackadaisical when it comes to information that is posted by those whom we believe are authorities. Errol Morris talks to Charles Johnson in his article, Johnson states “They all came from Iran, I know that much. If I check it out, I think it was Sepah. The L.A. Times on their front page actually credit it to the Revolutionary Guard. I thought that was pretty ironic.” The Revolutionary Guard. Upon research, I found out that the Revolutionary Guard was “originally created as a ‘people’s army’ similar to the U.S. National Guard.” (www.cfr.org) Charles Johnson claims “it’s just very odd to see a photo on the cover of a major American newspaper that’s credited to one of our sworn mortal enemies.” Perhaps any journalist would jump at the opportunity to write about conflict, especially conflict with a country like Iran, as relationships with the Middle East never cease to boil.
In order to justify why both pictures were distributed, we must try to understand why both photos came from Iran. So what is the exact story of what happened at the Iranian missile test site? A senior U.S. military source states that “Iran launched only one missile on Thursday, [which is] not a new full round of tests.” (CNN.com) Iranian media, however, claims that Thursday was the second day of long range missile testing; where a total of seven missiles were fired. The picture comes from a test where four of those seven missiles were activated and triggered, but one missile failed to launch. U.S. Intelligence claims that the missile was fired the next day. The story has changed. Upon reading the article the first time, I was lead on to believe that someone in Iran came out with a picture of four missiles being launched; and that this picture was later determined to be entirely Photoshopped. However, upon reading the article and researching the situation a little more in depth, it is to be believed that all four missiles, plus three more, were in fact launched. Now we may look at why someone would Photoshop a picture of four missiles firing instead of just posting the information that in fact seven missiles were fired. That answer is quite simple. It is connected to the neurological processes of our brain, where “30 to 50 percent of our brain is doing visual processing.” (Henry Farid) Morris talks with Farid in his article about the power of images about why people trust images. Farid claims that our brain processes tons and tons of information, comparing sight with sound is like comparing the information stored on a video camera to that stored on a voice recorder. Being that a good portion of our brain is devoted to this visual processing, it’s no wonder that images have such a toll on our emotions. When people see an image, they remember the image, and often forget what the setting is that’s associated with that image. Farid says that “For example, when you put out a fake, like the Kerry/Fonda one. And even like this missile one. You start putting it out there and saying, “Oh look, this picture? It’s a fake. This picture? It’s a fake.” But you know what people remember? They don’t remember, “It’s a fake.” They remember the picture.
So it is now understandable why someone may take the time to go through and Photoshop a picture like this one. Say an Iranian nationalist, perhaps educated in digital modification just like Farid, is aware of the fact that the brain is a visual processor; that we prefer to use video cameras rather than voice recorders. Say this person wants to instill fear on the American people. He took the correct route. Instead of seeing three missiles streaking heavenward and one missile pronounced dud defying the other missiles and the image that a photographer taking this picture may be trying to put across, we see four deadly missiles streaking high into the blue in a direction that may as well be west. It all comes back to how we perceive fear: something we see is far more likely to cause fear than something we hear. The creator of this Photoshopped image has improved his country’s reputation as a frightful source. People will soon relate the picture with fraud, but in the long run it is very likely that we will forget circumstances, and will look back on the frightful image of four Iranian missiles being launched as a threat.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. 25 October 2007. CFR. 24 Feb 2009
Morris, Errol. “Photography as a Weapon.” New York Times 11 August 2008.
U.S. source disputes Iran missile tests. 10 July 2008. CNN. 24 Feb 2009