A photograph can say a lot, says Dalrymple, but it’s still a subjective look at one corner of a complex world. Take those old photos of Shanghai he recently saw. The city looked relatively prosperous.
Did the camera lie? Not in the sense that it produced an image of what was not there to be seen, or in the sense that something had been airbrushed out in Stalinist fashion. But of course no number of photographs could capture the whole of reality, and everyone who wields a camera has a point of view, something that he wants to convey to others, and many things that he does not want to convey to others. Even the framing of a photograph for purely aesthetic reasons excludes what disturbs a composition, an ugly building next to a beautiful one, for instance. The camera is susceptible to all the rhetorical tricks of speech.