“From a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation.”
Authenticity cannot be defined simply, especially when referring to perceptions of what once were. To say a photograph isn’t authentic is futile; for they are reproductions of a perception of what has been. This has been my mistake in my research so far. I saw authenticity as the truth, and what is depicted in a photograph semantically is not the same as the photograph itself. The photograph exists, we can see it, touch it, this is authenticity. In Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, he states:
Photography never lies: or rather, it can lie as to the meaning of the thing, being by nature tendentious, never as to its existence.
So in regards to family photography (in the way that we know it now, showing smiling faces and strong ties in the family) the fact that there is a “pose” in place, doesn’t make the photograph untrue, unauthentic. For the photograph to exist in the first place, there must be authenticity. The people documented were there, they existed in this tiny moment in time, they existed together and in this way.
In regards to the authenticity of the meaning of what is depicted is a very different story, and relative to the subject, the photographer and the viewer. To someone who has no knowledge of the people depicted, we would read the meaning of the photograph in a different way. With this image to the left, I have no knowledge of who these people are or what they were like, but my stadium (my historical, social and political knowledge) can tell me that this was probably taken in or around the 70′s, judging from the style of clothes these people are wearing. A historian would believe this to be authentic, not just by the nature of the physical artefact but of the content. We cannot measure the authenticity of a photograph through meaning, it is dependant on our relation with what is depicted. A relation of someone who is within this image would have a punctum, a strong feeling of loss, an emotional tie to this photograph, and would therefore be read in a different manner.
Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage Books
Dillon, B. (2011) Rereading: Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes [online] available at <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/mar/26/roland-barthes-camera-lucida-rereading> (26 March 2011)