Oxford School of Photography

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Monthly Archives: September 2015

…….and six other shots that shook the world

From The Guardian

While stories of people drowning at sea as they flee to Europe has been a staple of news reporting this summer, it is this heartbreaking picture that has shocked the country into action. Charities have seen donations soar, petitions have been signed and marches planned since it was published – while, in the face of mounting pressure, David Cameron has finally agreed to taking more Syrian refugees. But this is not the first time a photograph has changed the course of world events.

much of what follows is difficult to look at

Phan Thi Kim Phúc

Nick Ut's shot of Kim Phúc, 1972
If the horrors of war can be distilled into one image, it might be the 1972 picture of nine-year-old Kim Phúc, screaming as she flees the napalm explosion that has burnt the clothes from her body. Nick Ut’s black-and-white photograph swayed US public opinion against the war, and helped to bring it to an end within six months of publication. After taking the shot, Ut threw a raincoat over Phúc and drove her to hospital, saving her life.

Vulture stalking child

Kevin Carter's shot of a vulture watching a starving child, 1 March 1993 in Sudan
Kevin Carter’s 1993 photograph of a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture caused mass uproar. The macabre picture highlighted the despair and severity of the famine, but criticism centred on Carter. He was vilified for not going to the child’s aid – despite the fact that journalists were told not to touch famine victims for fear of spreading disease. Carter won a Pulitzer prize for the image, but killed himself just months later.

Little Rock

Elizabeth Eckford in Little Rock
Elizabeth Eckford was 15 and painfully shy when she became one of nine black schoolchildren in Arkansas to be enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957 following a ruling that ended the segregation of schools in the US. On the first day of school, Eckford arrived to find the doors barred to her by soldiers of the National Guard, and a mob of classmates and parents screaming at her. The teenagers were eventually accompanied inside the school by the soldiers, but not before they had endured physical attacks and even death threats. This was the image that made sure desegregation went ahead.

Tank Man

Jeff Widener's shot of Tiananmen Square, 5 June 1989
No one knows what happened to the solitary man who stood before the tanks of Tiananmen Square, but his image, taken by Jeff Widener, broadcasted the brutal massacre by the Chinese army. Around a million protesters were said to have joined the call for economic and political reform in China in 1989, with student demonstrators occupying Beijing’s famous square. But on 3 June, the military opened fire on those who had gathered, rolling over others with their tanks. The government branded the demonstrators rioters and banned this image. But outside China, it has endured, ensuring that the courage of the unarmed protestors will not be forgotten.

Abu Ghraib

Abu Ghraib torture
Unlike other world-changing pictures, these are not beautifully composed, arresting photographs taken by professionals, but grainy spur-of-the-moment snaps. Capturing the degrading torture and humiliation of Iraqis by the American soldiers who took the pictures as “trophies”, their publication severely damaged the credibility of US troops. The abuse uncovered after they were published fuelled anti-US anger and undermined Washington’s claims to be bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.

 

Migrant Mother

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1933, by Dorothea Lange
In 1936, Florence Thompson was 32, a widow and worked as a farm labourer. Her husband had died of tuberculosis, and she was the sole provider for her seven children. When her car broke down, she ended up out of work with other labourers on a pea-picking farm, selling her tyres to buy food. Her children were killing birds to survive, and eating frozen vegetables dug from the nearby field. Photographer Dorothea Lange asked to take her picture to illustrate the plight of the pea-pickers. The picture became a symbol of the human suffering in the Great Depression, and the federal government sent 20,000lb of food to California migrant workers.
A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi after the boat carrying his family to the Greek island of Kos capsized near the Turkish resort of Bodrum on Wednesday 2 September.
Looking at this picture, it’s impossible not to imagine your own child – or any child you love … a paramilitary police officer carries Aylan Kurdi near the Turkish resort of Bodrum on Wednesday 2 September. Photograph: AP

PHOTOGRAPHS WON’T CHANGE THE WORLD?

This week we have seen that photography is a vital tool in changing peoples’ awareness and attitudes. Still images hold our attention in the way that video does not. The crisis brought about by Europe’s failure to do the humane thing, let me rephrase that, our governments’ failures to do the right and humane thing has not been resolved by a picture, but ordinary people have been changed and have spoken out and now the governments of Europe are paying attention. A sage man, Bruce Elder, commented “There is a dark ugliness in the soul of our politicians but, hopefully, there is a certain goodness and decency in the average citizens which will triumph over political cynicism.

This article on disphotic by Lewis Bush carries this idea that a photograph cannot change the world but that people can:

The power of images to change the world is often claimed, less often proven. Great achievements have been piled around the totem of photography, from the early pangs of environmental awareness to the final course and conclusions of armed conflicts. And yet photographs are just bits of paper, or today more likely abstract lines of code. These things can’t change the world, but they can change people, and people can change the world.

photographs-wont-change-the-world

Photographs are not, as we once believed, a sort of window on the world. But in however an incomplete and fragmented a way they do expose us to the idea of other places, people and things. This is not about some false equivalence between seeing and experiencing. This is not to say that seeing a photograph of a drowned child on a beach is the same as standing on that beach over that small body. But it is about knowing that somewhere a child drowned, and that his death is the consequence of other things which might be more within our power to change. Photographs present the idea that things are happening, or exist, or are possible.

You can read the rest of the article here

You may well feel that there is little you can do as an individual in the face of the overwhelming awfulness that is present on the fringes of Europe but that is not true. This article in The Independent might contain something you could do even if it is only clicking your mouse to tell our politicians how you think.

Five practical ways you can help refugees trying to find safety in Europe