What I’ve Got: Darren Aronofosky’s NYT Ads & Errol Morris’ “Believing is Seeing”

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In a continuation of their “The Truth is Hard to Find” campaign, The New York Times and Droga5 enlisted visionary filmmaker (and Harvard/VES alumnus!) Darren Aronofsky to craft a series of advertisements that focus on the trials and tribulations that three individual photojournalists experienced when snapping their photos in situations/areas of extreme peril.

The resulting series is fascinating, as Aronofsky pairs back his usual flair for visual storytelling to something more minimal and appropriate. By allowing each photojournalist to narrate over a series of photographs they snapped (prior to arriving at the photograph that the NYT ultimately used) in faux-real time, viewers are immediately grounded in their situation and headspace. Though these advertisements are wonderful in illustrating the NYT’s commitment in “searching for truth,” I could not help but think of Errol Morris’ “The Chicken or the Egg” NYT series, in which Morris dissects a series of photographs taken during the Crimean War to explore the question whether reality (and truth) can indeed be uncovered from a photograph.  In questioning whether the “real world can be recovered from the simulacrum” and whether “reality can be uncovered from a photograph,” Morris argues that objective reality can indeed be recovered from the subjectivity photographs capture.

Further, Morris’ writing style lends itself to the poignancy of the text’s conclusion. Morris – after obsessively researching the topic for months (including a trip to Crimea) – concludes the text without truly finding an answer to his inquiries. Rather, Morris touches upon the notion that both truth and fiction are not necessarily mutually exclusive:

“Is [the photograph with cannonballs off the road] true and [the photograph with cannonballs off the road] false, or vice versa? Or are both equally true? Is one more truthful than the other, because one is more natural than the other? Or authentic? And what is “natural”? Or “authentic”?“

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