The project ’Lying Pictures’ took place in Bochum on Saturday December 11, 2021. Within the scope of the project, presentations were made to the participants on the historical process of manipulation with images, the use of photographs as a means of manipulation today, and the limits of criticism in democratic societies.Referring to the historical process of manipulation in photography, experienced journalist and photographer Selahattin Sevi defined manipulation as “Manipulation in photography is the general name of the interventions made on the photograph in a way that changes the definition and meaning of the photograph.”
Noting that the number of freelance journalists in the world has been decreasing rapidly lately, Sevi said that this makes it easier to manipulate, especially in closed regimes. Sevi, exemplified the fall of Recep Tayyip Erdogan from a horse during his premiership in Turkey, said: “A prime minister has fallen from a horse in Turkey. The prime minister’s photographer could not take the photos of the prime minister falling from the horse. Anadolu Agency, which was affiliated with the Prime Ministry at that time, served this photo. The whole of Turkey actually saw those photos from there. I think these are the best examples of the point we have reached in 20 years. If it were otherwise, maybe we would never have seen these photos.” said he in his statements.
Describing how Stalin suppressed and eliminated many opponents for his power, Sevi shared an example of manipulation that Stalin also deleted from photographs after eliminating Antipov, with whom he posed together in Leningrad in 1936, in political life.
In another photo he shared, Sevi said that Stalin even manipulated Lenin’s rally photo and that future generation included this manipulated photo in their commemoration programs, and mentioned the role of the media in perceiving the manipulated information as real.
Referring to the factor of ideological belonging here, Sevi stressed that although it is known that the photo was manipulated, the fact that everything that Stalin did was considered correct and justified from the very beginning by Stalin’s supporters laid the foundation for this. He also underlined that the use of photographs in this way helps dictators to create a visual history.
Manipulation is not only peculiar to dictators
Selahattin Sevi stated that manipulation is not unique only to dictators and authoritarian regimes and it is sometimes done to glorify a person or to make them look different.
Giving an example of the most well-known iconic photograph of the 16th President of the USA, Abraham Lincoln, Sevi shared the information that this photograph was actually manipulated and that it was obtained by placing Lincoln’s head on the body of another politician, John Calhoun.
For the dictator, ‘others’ are unimportant
Selahattin Sevi gave examples of dictators especially in history with photographs and said, ‘Dictators actually see the people around them as unnecessary.’ and showed manipulation, in which Hitler deleted the Propaganda Minister Goebbels from the photo from the names closest to him.
“The dictator can remove even the closest person from the photo even when something breaks down or when he thinks that this person is spoiling the environment. It could be Goebbels who was deleted from the photo, it could be a horseman, or it could be a dissident he contradicted. It shows that even when these people are going through a critical process such as a war, their photos go through a certain filter.” said.
“Manipulation is now easier”
In his presentation, journalist Fatih Akalan described how authoritarian regimes use manipulation today with examples from Turkey and Syria. Referring to the reports published by international institutions, Akalan said that the situation is actually worse for media workers in these countries, but clear information is not available due to closed regimes.
“It is now easier for the government to use the press to manipulate the public, because most opposition journalists are in prison,” Others, on the other hand, automatically either prefer to shut up or are forced to change their profession in order not to go to prison.” said Akalan.
In his presentation, Akalan drew attention to the structure of the current media and shared the information that 40 media organizations in Turkey control 95% of the current media and pointed out that the vast majority of them are names close to the AKP regime.
Akalan showed the media institutions owned by businessmen who do business with the government and receive tenders from the government, drew attention to the fact that the media is financed by corruption, especially in construction tenders, in the presentation.
“Terrorist, Traitor, Agent!” –
Akalan stated that the government in Turkey has established two different structures to control social media, and mentioned that the Presidential Communications Directorate, in particular, pushes the public to polarization with the disinformation. Akalan said that the expressions “terrorist, traitor, agent” are used especially for those who criticize for this purpose.
Fatih Akalan used Emine Erdoğan’s iftar visit as an example of manipulation. He stated that in the photo, the time of entry to the house was actually long before the iftar, and that the dinner table was recorded by the cameras at the entrance, but that the photo was served while they were on the ground table at the time of iftar, and that this was designed to look modest.
Fatih Akalan used the speech of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the UN General Assembly as another example.
Pointing out that the news given by the media close to the government with the headline “He Shouted Into Their Faces” was actually Erdogan’s speech to the empty hall, Akalan said that the photo was prepared as if he was speaking to a full hall.
“The Media Creates Public Awareness”
In his presentation, Political scientist and educator Dirk Schmidt touched upon the impact of photos shown by the media on the formation of public perception.
Dirk Schmidt gave an example of how perception can be created by showing different parts of the same photo in his presentation.
Schmidt especially emphasized that dictators rewrite their past by manipulating photos. Schmidt noted that the social memory of creating remembrances in people related to an event with certain pictures that are processed into minds also ensures the formation of a memory.
Dirk Schmidt also underlined that what press freedom means in democratic societies is determined by the law and exchanged ideas with the participants about what should be covered by press freedom.
Stressing that a journalist does not have the right to do everything, Schmidt drew attention to the fact that the concepts of press freedom and opinion, personal dignity and freedom of the arts should be discussed.
After the presentations, the participants exchanged ideas on projects that could be organized jointly.