Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

7 Photographs That Show Society’s Debt to Photography

Lightstalking is a good place to spend an hour or so when you need to recharge your photography batteries. Sure it has a number of tedious articles about how to do the basic stuff but at it’s best it opens up debates. This article by Rob, he started Lightstalking, is one of those that you should read and consider and then add to the debate with your examples of images that have changed things.

When we started Light Stalking, it was for no other reason than that we liked taking photographs and learning how to do that in a better way. While we always appreciated the role that photographers played in keeping a vibrant democracy informed, we weren’t really informed of the trials that photographers go through in undertaking that job, other than the occasional incident or anecdote. The growing popularity of Light Stalking has meant a greater exposure to those people who don’t really see photography as having a legitimate role in strengthening a society and some who are downright hostile to the idea.
Perhaps that’s an informed decision or perhaps it’s them reacting to specific cases. Either way, it got us thinking about the very real debt that free societies owe to photographers.
Photographers have traditionally had to put up with abuse from those who either didn’t want their photograph taken or didn’t want some other thing exposed to a wider audience. The cases of photographers being unjustly or illegally interfered with while going about their perfectly legal profession or hobby have grown exponentially in the last decade too. This article is for them.
In almost every photo in the following collection, the photographer has made somebody very uncomfortable and, in almost every case, provoked a hostile reaction from an individual, group or segment of society. And in every case, the photograph in question has had a positive and lasting effect on society.

Saigon Execution by Eddie Adams – The Photograph That Helped End a War

One of the photographs that helped sway public sentiment against the Vietnam War, this image was taken in 1968 at the beginning of the Tet Offensive. The image depicts the execution of a member of the Viet Cong by a member of the Republic of Vietnam National Police The image itself is so indelibly marked on the conscience of society that few people even realise that video of the event also exists. It is used in a massive amount of texts on the Vietnam War and is often cited as a demonstration of the injustices perpetrated by American allies in the south.

While it is undoubtedy Eddie Adams’ most famous photograph, Adams was not comfortable with it, once saying “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?”

7 Photographs That Show Society’s Debt to Photography

Light Stalking
I’m Rob, the editor of Light Stalking. I try to keep this ship on course.

By  on 4 Jun 2012 in Random45 Comments ]

When we started Light Stalking, it was for no other reason than that we liked taking photographs and learning how to do that in a better way. While we always appreciated the role that photographers played in keeping a vibrant democracy informed, we weren’t really informed of the trials that photographers go through in undertaking that job, other than the occasional incident or anecdote. The growing popularity of Light Stalking has meant a greater exposure to those people who don’t really see photography as having a legitimate role in strengthening a society and some who are downright hostile to the idea.

Perhaps that’s an informed decision or perhaps it’s them reacting to specific cases. Either way, it got us thinking about the very real debt that free societies owe to photographers.

Photographers have traditionally had to put up with abuse from those who either didn’t want their photograph taken or didn’t want some other thing exposed to a wider audience. The cases of photographers being unjustly or illegally interfered with while going about their perfectly legal profession or hobby have grown exponentially in the last decade too. This article is for them.

In almost every photo in the following collection, the photographer has made somebody very uncomfortable and, in almost every case, provoked a hostile reaction from an individual, group or segment of society. And in every case, the photograph in question has had a positive and lasting effect on society.

Saigon Execution by Eddie Adams – The Photograph That Helped End a War

One of the photographs that helped sway public sentiment against the Vietnam War, this image was taken in 1968 at the beginning of the Tet Offensive. The image depicts Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan of the Republic of Vietnam National Police executing Nguyễn Văn Lém of the Viet Cong.

The image itself is so indelibly marked on the conscience of society that few people even realise that video of the event also exists. It is used in a massive amount of texts on the Vietnam War and is often cited as a demonstration of the injustices perpetrated by American allies in the south.

While it is undoubtedy Eddie Adams’ most famous photograph, Adams was not comfortable with it, once saying “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?”

Face Off at the Oka Crisis by Shaney Komulainen – The Photograph That Stopped a Land Grab

The rights of Canada’s first people were brought into the spotlight in 1990 when the Oka Crisis brought land developers and government into conflict with the local indigenous population of Oka in Quebec.

The local council and developers were attempting to expand a golf course onto land that had a long and involved history of conflict between the native peoples of Oka and the European inhabitants. The story made international news and highlighted many injustices faced by Canada’s first people including the fight for recognition of their rights to land that they traditionally used.

The defining image of the crisis was this one of a soldier and Mohawk warrior facing off which highlighted the lengths to which the native people were willing to go to stop encroachment – standing up to the military.

The event lead to various changes in the law and processes in Canada to help prevent such occurrences, as well as local and international support for the cause of Canada’s first people and some of the more obvious injustices that they faced.

1968 Mexico Olympics Black Power Salute by John Dominis – The Photograph That Brought the Civil Rights Movement to the World

Six months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, the 1968 Olympics in Mexico saw the most overtly political statement in modern Olympic history when African American athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith made the raised fist sign on the medal podium with Australian athlete, Peter Norman wearing a Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity with the two Americans.

While all three athletes were later shunned by their athletic establishments as a reprimand, none ever recanted their actions which, with time, came to be seen as one of the most significant protests of 20th century race relations.

“If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight,” said Tommie Smith.

The athletes have since become standard bearers of putting beliefs before personal interests and the photograph remains an iconic reminder of their stand.

See the rest of the list here
Why not add the images that have affected you

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