Truthmark is a photography database aiming to stop misuse in fake news
Initiated by Canon with agency Uncle Grey Copenhagen, it allows photographers to upload images together with the stories and contexts behind them, aiming to curtail misappropriation.
- Jenny Brewer
- 28 July 2020
Prompted by the increasing use of photographs in incorrect and misleading contexts, the Nordic arm of camera company Canon and agency Uncle Grey Copenhagen have launched the Truthmark initiative: a photo database wherein the images are embedded with information about their origin. Not just who took it, when and where, but the story behind it, according to the photographer.
Photographers can upload their images to the database, while retaining copyright, along with written documentation as to the context of the photograph. This is then encrypted together with all the information as one file. Journalists and members of the public who wish to check the authenticity of images can search the database and discover the origin of the photo in more detail than most existing image banks, including the specific context of what’s portrayed.
The aim, as the companies explain in a statement, is to “protect democracy by reducing the misuse of photos worldwide and ensuring that the truth is protected”. They reference examples of photographs being co-opted to spread fake news, including a recent story that saw an old series of photos of empty Norwegian hospitals used to support claims that Covid-19 didn’t exist in Norway.
Uncle Grey Copenhagen programmed and designed the Truthmark database using a digital fingerprint technology that can recognise images, even if they have been slightly altered. So, if an image has been tampered with, users can still find the original image and true story in the database, if the photographer has uploaded the original.
The agency has also created an online campaign to promote the database featuring interviews with World Press Photo-winning photographers Ivor Prickett and Johnny Haglund, and Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Etter, whose images are in the database. In a filmed interview, Prickett says that “certain regimes and people have realised that it’s very easy to twist the truth, and very often that’s through images. Your picture is being taken out of context and used to back up people’s twisted political views”.
Lars Samuelsen, Creative Chairman of Uncle Grey Copenhagen, comments that Truthmark hopes to ensure that “images are being used in the way that they have been experienced and intended by the photographers,” and that the database “has the potential to increase truthfulness and transparency, and bring authentic storytelling to the forefront of an increasingly complicated media landscape globally”.