Sunday, 14 June 2015

In a bamboo grove - Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Bamboo grove with graffiti: Melbourne 2004I came across this excellent little story in a Penguin Little Black Classic (The Life of a Stupid Man) which is available for next to nothing in print or on Kindle. It tells the story of a murder (or perhaps suicide) through the words of seven separate witnesses, and in so doing questions the very nature of truth and evidence. Each story unquestionably deals with some or all of the facts as we “know” them, and uses them to build a picture in which a number of people could be guilty of causing the death, and in which at least three people confess with more or less equal believability.

There is a detailed analysis here – furusatoe – and I think both that and the story are well worth the few minutes for anyone interested in exploring why we believe what we believe, how evidence is constructed and interpreted and how personal and cultural preferences steer our reading of such material.

It also offers up for examination some of the tricks that people use, consciously or unconsciously, to “prove” that their version of events is the correct, including such obvious ploys as use of authority, use of confidence, the “I’ve nothing to lose by telling the truth approach” and appeals to the feelings of the onlooker.

Its applicability to photo essays, and documentary photography in general seems clear.


Akutagawa, R., 2015. In a bamboo grove. In: The life of a stupid man. Little Black Classics ed. London: Penguin, pp. 1-15.

Anon, 2013. In a Bamboo Grove: An Analysis on the Nature of Truth and Human Perception. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 14 June 2015].

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