In 2005 TMZ was born: A ruthless celebrity and entertainment gossip-news platform that cemented the unforgiving attitude one should take when viewing paparazzi photography—a pursuit for the raw and ugly truth behind the glamour of show business. The bundling of celebrity and entertainment hyped the charged activity of film-making: elaborate set designs and location scouting, hours of makeup, actors falling in love on set—revealing the drama behind the illusion of the films themselves. TMZ reminded us that images do not just appear on silver screens, they are long-term projects sometimes years in the making with layers of work, drama and scandal.
What audiences appreciate more than the illusion of film itself is the dismantling of that construct. Before Youtube, the advent of DVDs were distinct from VHS, providing cinephiles with ‘behind the scenes’ content of their favourite films. Exactly how were we being tricked into investing in these images? The curtain is pulled down with the view of such scenes as bottled water on top of the Colosseum’s wall; Angelina Jolie’s tattoos being painstakingly erased in post-production; Kirsten Stewart and Robert Pattinson despising the Twilight saga.
In 2013 an image circulated of Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson tripping and falling on a street in Glasgow. The awkward nature of this paparazzi shot sparked into an early meme template that photoshopped serial flogs to her integrity as a composed actress. A year later the image would re-emerge in the cult-ish, sci-fi film, Under the Skin. The film is known for its content being derived from real life footage of composed Johansson luring men into her van without their knowledge of staged hidden cameras. Johansson’s meme a year earlier was part of an elaborate staged prank on traditional filmmaking, corroding the presence of scriptwriting as an honest device in place of reality.
In 2015 the film Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay. It’s known for its lengthy single-take scenes and its depiction of celebrity deterioration and desperation on New York’s Broadway. There are some amateur videos online of tourists and locals filming street drummers performing one night in Times Square. The actor Michael Keaton is seen crashing through the gathered crowd wearing only underwear and followed by a steady-cam. The stunt would not make sense until the film was to be released a year later, once the director’s edit was to appear seamless and in context, closest to reality. The particular scene spoke to an emerging sense of how scandal is filtered through its exposure at eye-level; a response to how audiences were beginning to doubt the truth of media channels and of the reality of films. The scene won over the Academy because Times Square behaved like Times Square when it was being filmed in real life. Audiences needed more proof than just narrative to reveal what happens when subject matter applies to reality.
Photographs are always taken in-situ, but develop as an abstraction or a small clue of something that really happened. When an image can no longer be trusted of its source or agenda, it forces its administrator to become more manipulative. When approaching a hung-up thing in the gallery and it becomes clear you’re approaching a photograph, you are immediately expecting that it should contain a certain amount of truth than when compared to a painting. Photographs are full disclosure of its ability for lying. They are just pictures that win or don’t win the Oscar.