Can the Sun Lie?

Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth. Ed. Forensic Architecture, Berlin: Sternberg Press, (2014): 56-64.

Can the sun lie? asked a US court in 1886. This legal question arose when photographs or sun pictures as they were also called at the time first entered into juridical proceedings as a new form of evidence. Could chemistry and light manipulate the natural order of the things worried the court or were the realities depicted by photographs incontrovertible? This concern continued into the early twentieth century as photographic practices became more commonplace and an awareness of the ease of image manipulation grew. Soon photographic experts began to face each other in court. With their appearance a new order of certainty appeared that was produced not by the truth claims of photographs alone, but also by the interpretative domain of expertise. These historically controversial issues around the objectivity of photography, the testimony of nonhuman agents, and the opposition between lay and scientific knowledge have not gone away with the introduction of the digital and the development of an ever-increasing range of technologies for measuring and recording the natural world. Nowhere is this more apparent than within the context of climate change debates and especially so with regards to interaction between the different regimes of witnessing represented by scientific expertise and indigenous storytelling traditions. In the Canadian Arctic the Inuit have controversially observed that the sun is setting many kilometers further west along the horizon and the stars are no longer where they should be. Sunlight is behaving differently in this part of the world as the warming Arctic air causes temperature inversions and throws the setting sun off kilter. The nineteenth-century suspicion directed toward the sun’s capacity to mislead, to turn stable realities into distorted versions of the real, is refracted in this twenty-first-century corollary as climate change transforms the surfaces of the earth into a vast array of photographic plates, each
 of which is recording the atmospheric chemistry of terrestrial change differently. For the Inuit, the world that they once knew finds no mirror image in the world that they now see.