Wednesday, 26 November 2014

When photography says more than words

Photography has for a long time adopted the side-kick role in regards to journalism.  It's played a secondary part, aiding news and journalism in the visual department.  However, with the rise of social media and digital journalism, has photography finally taken centre stage?

I have often confessed that I am very much a visual learner, too many times have I found myself switching off when people are stood talking at me for a time excessive of 8 minutes.  Text has also at times, proved an effort to read, absorb and digest.  This is where I feel photography has really come into its own.  Photography need only capture your attention for a few seconds for you to become immersed.  It has very much become a case of ‘actions speaking louder than words.'  Words can be great things, things that truly inspire, but they can also be heavy and easily ignored.  Impressions are far more likely to be made with information and actions being shown.

You see, I have always found that art has acted as a sort of threshold for me, whereby, it has gradually opened my eyes to things I may not have otherwise discovered.  I like art because of what it says, but more importantly; how it says it.  Even if I don't like it, I have a certain amount of respect for it because of the thought process it has undergone.

For me, the current Wars have been something I haven’t really paid much attention to or taken a great deal of interest in.  Admittedly that sounds extremely ignorant and i'm fully aware it is, but I often find it hard to feel emotionally involved with something that doesn't directly affect me. There are other things that don’t necessarily affect me directly, such as art, or sport, or music, but I take an interest in them because they're things I can actively participate in or influence. However, when I stumbled across the Tate modern’s exhibition Conflict,Time, Photography: ‘160 years of war photography: an audiovisual guide to the world's most powerful conflict images’ I finally became interested in war.

In Roland Barthes Mythologies, the power of image is something explored in great depth. Barthes comments on the 'arts, or '"aesthetic appearance," in which the impossibility of exhausting the power of an image, a text, or an object receives testimony in the failure of commentary to justice to it'.  This is something relevant to photography in comparison to text; I feel text just doesn't do war justice.  Words can be dressed up, made bias and can be taken out of context.  However, a photograph in journalism generally can't lie, it says what it sees, which is often a lot.  It also leaves room for your own imagination to run a little wild, and for you to construct a meaning of your own.  This in itself is a very powerful thing.  But what if you create the wrong kind of meaning?  Well that's the beautiful thing - there is no wrong meaning; a photograph takes an abstract form and therefore leaves room for an abstract interpretation.  It also has the power to make an impact with little or no knowledge regarding context. 

When I looked through the photographs featured in Conflict, Time, Photography and the images that depicted the likes of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I created a narrative of my own.  I saw aspects of isolation and fear, desolate landscapes paralleled with death.  I felt hopes and dreams thrive and die in front of me and was left with a haunting silence, worthy of respect.  I didn't just see the images, I felt them.  One by one the images became fused with strands of memory, leaving a lasting imprint.

Photography is powerful because it doesn't ram an opinion down your throat, or overwhelm you with a certain political perspective.  Instead, it eases you into an idea, offering up a certain viewpoint in a much more liberalising way.  It gives you room to breathe and think for yourself which can be incredibly enriching.

With the rise of social media platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and Vine, which are all designed to visually stimulate, it is evident to see the extent to which interest is shown in the image.  With mobile devices continually evolving, most of the time images are easier to see in comparison to text being read.  They are also quick to share, easily digestible and have the capability to embody a whole story in one brief viewing.

Photography has stepped up, it's finally refused to be a mere assistant in the world of news and journalism.  It has redefined the storytelling process and, in doing so, has reiterated the power of image. 

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