Camera Cannot Lie

Meanings of “Camera Cannot Lie”

The phrase “camera cannot lie” is a modern phrase used for images and pictures. When clicking an image on a camera they show what they see. While this phrase has a literal meaning, it means that once a person takes a picture it is proof of that moment’s incident. However, we must also keep in mind that altered images don’t apply here

Origin of “Camera Cannot Lie”

Printed pictures and photographs started emerging around the 19th century. The phrase “camera cannot lie” was coined a few years later with the idea that a photograph was a reliable representation of an event or a scene. It is stated to have been used in the year 1895 in the paper, the Evening News, published in Nebraska. Also, phrases like “Photographic Memory” were supporting statements which deemed the camera as an infallible source of truth.  The phrase has, since then, become very popular.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

From The Complete Works of Robert Louis Stevenson by Robert Louis Stevenson

The argument is not so childish as it seems; for I doubt if these islands are acquainted with any other mode of representation but photography; so that the picture of an event (on the old melodrama principle that ‘the camera cannot lie, Joseph,’) would appear strong proof of its occurrence. The fact amused us the more because our slides were some of them ludicrously silly, and one (Christ before Pilate) was received with shouts of merriment, in which even Maka was constrained to join.

This passage talks about how a scene is best represented through a picture. The phrase occurs in the parenthesis in the third line to highlight how an event could be best represented. Hence, the meanings of the phrase are clear and self-explanatory.

Example #2

The Norwich Victims by Francis Beeding

‘It is said that the camera cannot lie. These two photographs are a faithful representation of the form and features of Robert Hedlam and Throgmorton respectively. At first sight there is little resemblance between them. If, however, you look at them closely you will recognize them to be photographs of the same person. The superficial differences are due to four very simple devices. Robert Hedlam is bald with dark eyebrows.

This passage is talking about picture identification. This passage tells about two persons who have a little resemblance, yet have the similarity in that both seem the same. Although the phrase shows that they are different from the use of this phrase,  the middle of this passage shows that they are actually one and that even the camera has lied about them. In other words, somebody has deceived the camera. The meanings are entirely denotative yet ironic.

Example #3

From New Challenges for Documentary: Second Edition edited by Alan Rosenthal, John Corner

The central question for documentary ethics is how much meditation is ethical? Our ability to answer this question is currently much hampered. First, in effect losing a distinct idea of how documentary differs from other actual programming in general and news in particular destroys the basis upon which a distinct documentary ethic can be made to rest. Second, we have a heightened sense of audience protection – the very fact of content regulation assumes caveat emptor is not enough. At the same time, we have consumed media responsibilities to the audience with ethical duties owed participants as if the outcomes of taking part were the same as spectating. Finally, the concept of ‘fakery’ has been so broadly construed that, in its naivete, it echoes the old error – ‘the camera cannot lie’.

In this excerpt, the authors discuss the importance of a camera for a documentary. They are of the view that ethical frameworks for creating a documentary are different from other news and reporting sources. However, even in the documentary creation, fakery has entered as the camera takes wrong images or correct images are attributed to wrong sources. The use of the phrase by the end of the passage is highly ironic but denotative.

Example #4

From Under the Influence: California’s Intoxicating Spiritual and Cultural Impact on America by Monica Ganas

Most folks seem to know there is no such thing as reality television. The moment something is photographed and transmitted, it ceases to be real in any conventional sense. So why are we so convinced that “the camera cannot lie”? Why does the televised world seem so much more real to us than our natural surroundings? This is not simply the result of overexposure, though on average we spend more time watching television than we do engaging our environment or one another.

The author sheds light on the maxim that the phrase, “the camera cannot lie” in this era of reality television shows doesn’t hold true anymore. She is of the view that as people are fully convinced about it, they also think that everything shown through the television is real. Also, it happens when people spend more time watching television rather than doing something productive.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “George became a photographer because he believed that a camera cannot lie, even if everything else can.”

Example #2: “Journalists try to get the truth using a lot of photographs because they know that cameras cannot lie.”

Example #3: “A camera cannot lie, but a photo-shopped content is quite the opposite. You would need a keen eye to see the facts without using filters.”

Example #4: “Hannah thought that the cameras can never lie but it looked like she was wrong. The pictures were morphed and she knew it.”

Example #5: “Randall, a private investigator, took all the pictures as proof during the investigation, because he always claimed that a camera cannot lie.”