The Power Of Photography
The one image shows that demonstrates the power of photography and photojournalism to me.
In my previous post I mentioned that I’d been watching a series on Youtube called The Crit House hosted by Jeff Larason. The resulting post consisted of five photos that I felt defined as the most impactful to me and my view of photography.
One of the photos was titled “Tank Man” taken by Jeff Widener. There are a few slightly different versions of it as the same photo was taken by a few other photojournalists at the time, but I believe his photo seems to be credited the most.
But there was one more photo that I believe was more impactful to me than that one. It was a photo that I had in my head but I could never seem to find. And until recently I’d almost forgotten about it. But once I found “Tank Man”, lo and behold this photo found its way into my searches. Perhaps not as popular as “Tank Man”, but in my eyes and mind, a much more profound photo.
There is at least one more version of this, but that version doesn’t have the same impact on me as the one below. Would I consider it as one of my top five? I think of it as more of a bonus photo. I don’t think I could replace one of my first five as I think this one hits home a bit differently. I don’t feel this photo necessarily defines me as a photographer any more or less than the other five, but I feel that it does define my interpretation of the power of photography.
When I first saw this image, I was a teenager in high school. I sat in the auditorium as a slide show played. I don’t remember the purpose of the slide show itself, but I remember this photo very clearly. I was fascinated and at the same time in awe of what I was seeing. I knew nothing about photography or photojournalism and yet, here I was witnessing something that had such a profound effect on me. Years later I would remember this photo and seeing it again, it has the same effect on me now as it did all those years ago. The feeling I got from seeing this image for the first time was indescribable.
As far as I can tell this photo is untitled. Taken by Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin, it shows the defiance of a student protestor in the face of the government crackdown. His arms stretched out and flexing his muscles and positioned such that he hovers above Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum. The fact that this was done in an area of Beijing that is revered by many in the country as an important part of China’s modern history, shows the cultural significance and life altering effects it can bring. For me, it isn’t the technical aspects of the photo (rule of thirds, highlights or shadows) that make me compelled to see it, it is the symbolism of it. Even more so, not just the symbolism of the specific protest, but the purity of the symbolism itself and culturally where it is taking place. For me, growing up as a Chinese-Canadian, I’d always had some basic ideology of my heritage from my parents. This photo shook a bit of that ideology. Which is probably why it means so much to me.
Up until now, I’d been trying to think of an appropriate title for it, perhaps I just did.
Now, this doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and start protesting, nor am I going to start looking for a protest to cover (I’m honestly not that kind of person). To me, this image shows how photography can shape society and minds of people. It has moral implications and we bear some level of responsibility to those we show them to. Whether we agree with the actions or not of those we photograph, we bear witness to these events and we have that responsibility to show them accurately.
“What I want is the world to remember the problems and the people I photograph. What I want is to create a discussion about what is happening around the world and to provoke some debate with these pictures. Nothing more than this. I don’t want people to look at them and appreciate the light and the palate of tones. I want them to look inside and see what the pictures represent, and the kind of people I photograph."
- Sebastião Salgado
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