A Thin Line between Reality and Fiction


Norwegian photographer Jonas Bendiksen’s recently published The Book of Veles has generated a lot of interest and controversy. Flipping through it, you might think at first glance that there’s nothing special about it – except that it does not depict reality, and even the experts could not figure it out.

Famous photographer Jonas Bendiksen is a member of the world-renowned photo agency Magnum Photos and the winner of major awards. He lived in Russia for several years, where he captured on camera the decay of cities in the former Soviet Union, leading to the successful publication of Satellites – Photographs from the Fringes of the former Soviet Union, released in 2006. He spent several years photographing slum communities in Kenya, India, Indonesia, and Venezuela – the photographs were published in The Places We Live in 2008. He later published The Last Testament, which depicts the story of seven men posing as biblical messiahs. Jonas Bendiksen’s latest publication has not only sparked fierce debate in the photography community. It is also a reaction to the spread of Fake News.

Jonas Bendiksen – Magnum Photos

When Reality is a Fake

The Macedonian town of Veles was experiencing a crisis with a high unemployment rate. It became known to a wider audience in connection with, so to speak, an international case. Young people there found a way to make good money by spreading so-called fake news on the Internet and social networks. The US presidential election (2016) proved to be an excellent foundation. In essence, these young people took over the already finished articles, in which, however, they changed some essential information and thus published them on the Internet. Their goals were apolitical, they just wanted to make money.


When everything fell apart, the power of the media and social networks was reaffirmed. Jonas Bendiksen gave birth to an idea that was closely related to the case mentioned above. He decided to take new photos in Veles, but this time he purposefully photographed empty spaces to later create software models of the figures that he inserted into his photos. He placed something in each photo that was not originally there. Not even the text in the book was written by Bendiksen, it was created by the AI. With the created book, he went to the international photography festival in Perpignan, France, where he shocked everyone. No one came up with the intentional deception, so the author had to come up with another way to get his colleagues to expose this trick, by criticizing his own work. Bendiksen first created a fake profile on Facebook under the name Chloe Miskin, expressing outrage at the way he was treating people and paying them to pose for him in Velese.  When that ploy did not work, however, the photographer extended his critic’s profile to Twitter, where, fortunately, it began to arouse suspicion – one user noticed that one of her followers was wearing the same clothes as the woman who appeared in the book.

They came up with a way to make decent money by spreading the so-called fake news on the Internet and social networks.

Bendiksen was finally exposed, and as he said, he was relieved, after all, he was not comfortable spreading lies. The author of the photographs, who had to make a significant contribution to the discovery, wanted to point out the way information is created, spread, spread, and received had changed in the last 15 years. At the same time, the book of manipulated reality brought Jonas Bendisksen popularity, which is ultimately due to the fact that the book has sold out and is awaiting a new edition. Let us hope that the next time we leaf through the book, we will be well informed.

Text: Miriama Vojteková, photo: Pixabay