Errol Morris takes us behind the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Errol Morris is best known for his documentary films; his latest, Tabloid, was a recent VSL pick. But for the past few years, Morris has also been the author of an excellent New York Times blog. The best entries have now been collected, expanded, and turned into a book. It’s called Believing Is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography), and it, too, is excellent.

Morris fans—and readers of the Times’ digital edition—will recognize the subjects (the Civil War and Abu Ghraib both figure prominently). Morris, who describes his larger project as “an excursion into the labyrinth of the past and into the fabric of reality” and asks his readers to approach the book as “a collection of mystery stories,” is especially interested in getting to the bottom of a few enduring mysteries: Was Susan Sontag right to accuse Roger Fenton of staging one of his famous photographs of the Crimean War’s Valley of the Shadow of Death? Was WPA-era photographer Arthur Rothstein a propagandist (as several conservative critics have claimed)? Morris went to great lengths to find out, and each journey is illustrated by a slew of beautifully reproduced photographs.

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