To live in a globalised world is to live in a demanding one – citizens should take responsibility for actions near and far, and the media demands our constant attention. Meanwhile the media can exert and distance the state of distance and demands. The globalised world also means a transient workforce, and migrant demands and sense of belonging. The transient workforce also creates demands and tensions, and the state seeks to control and regulate its citizens.
Photographs are a central part of the media and they have the ability to cause action and attention. All forms of media use or refer to photos and images in order to cause a response – emotive photos in particular. Many devices can also ‘capture moments in time’ and they are a useful tool to promote the truth and injustices in the world. To add to this the ability to take photos has become readily available and is doable on a lot of devices – while also sharing and publicising images is so much easier now in the internet heavy and globalised world. They make faraway places seem close, and can play on the idea of proximity and distance.
Since its invention in England and France in the 1850s, photography has been used as means to get a message across. Photos were taken in exploration expeditions throughout the 19th century and opened people’s eyes to the world around them. The National Geographic publication exposes the world and bring it to our attention. With the development of affordable cameras, and heightened by tourism and accessibility to nations, people take pictures of their journeys – their routes.
Photos are used by various groups to get their message across and develop an idea, stigma or connotation. In this way, photos and the media develop our world views. A good example is the way governments employ photos for their propaganda, or likewise NGOs in order to call people to action (i.e. donations to help impoverished nations). Photos can cause a negative or positive image, and can damage reputations of nations or corporations. They are very influential in the media and mediating citizens.
Photos have the immense power to change social, economic, political or environmental opinion – creating stigma or countering it. “Photographs that changed the World” (Monk, 1989) is one product of these defining moments in time caught on camera. Such photos had the ability to bring the issues home and cause immense, and often global, reaction. However, the intent of the photographer is not always known, and photos are used by certain sources to gauge a certain reaction.
Due to the easy accessibility of photos, and ability to represent ‘truth’, they are employed by charities and NGOs to bring distant nations closer and call citizens to action to join their cause.
Oxfam for example describes itself as ‘working with others to find lasting solutions to poverty and suffering’. Meanwhile Friends of the Earth (FoE) says its aim is to ‘inspire solutions to environmental problems’. Both organisations are based in the UK, but publicise issues across the world, employing the use of photos in their campaigns. Leaflets used by both NGOs demand we not only read the leaflets, but to also donate. While Oxfam may call for current members to pay a little more to reach more citizens, the FoE leaflet calls on the citizen to be the instrument of change by making small alterations to the way they live. Both leaflets are trying to convince readers to take action, and employing the emotive tool or photos to embellish their text. The photos can be either positive or negative, but they aim to get the message across.
The use of photos drives attention to the cause, and they can be shared and distributed easily. Photos are a universal language, and even if you cannot read or regardless of language, a photo will usually cause the same response. Photos bring faraway places closer, and aim to highlight the issue and situation in order to drive a response. While some photos are used to show the damage caused by war or pollution, they can be used in contrast to show the work accomplished and lives saved by the NGOs work.
Photos employed by NGOs seek to create a connection between the action and the result, whether positive or negative (i.e. if you donate this will happen). They serve to make us a ‘witness’ to events, but the issue lies with trying to make us respond to them. Provided the photos are emotive enough, it will cause action and reaction. The witness then becomes the activist through the use of photos.
The way and angle of the photos serves to cause a response too, perhaps the shot is set up as though you are not involved, or perhaps it is breaking the fourth wall. Another issue is whether a photo is enough to bring the issue to home, the leaflet, a flat piece of paper, can sometimes distance ourselves from the issue. Also, photo manipulation can also manipulate the ‘truth’ of the situation. Photos can be posed and false, however generally they are regarded as a true form of journalism and media.
Elizabeth Edwards (2011) has called on the ‘rawness’ of images, and the powerful force of some horrifying photos has on its audience. The information is so direct, it not only makes the issue seem proximate, but present. Pictures of starvation, pollution, war and the impact of human actions on others are extremely emotive and powerful in driving action, but also changing or consolidating opinion.
How photographs show what is absent
Photos are a useful tool to make an issue unavoidable and close. Not all photos make demands or cause action through proximity or presence. Photos can also highlight what is absent and missing, or forever gone. Photos are not just used to create a connection between people and places, but as a reminder to what is no more. Photos act as a substitute of something that is not there, like a decreased person, population or extinct animal.
The ability to use photos to show what is not there can create different responses. With the likes of campaigning, it can make one organisation seem bigger than it actually is. Through the absence of protesters and employing images of the young or deceased, campaigns can have a greater weight in changing opinion or history.
However, photos do not always have the same impact for the audience. For this reason, the reaction to photos differ with each campaign. The role of photographs in this globalised world is not only about making the audience a witness to events to drive social change, or to mobilise even larger forces for the campaign, but the ability of photos to show absence and what has been and never will be before.
They make people and things seem proximate, and in very intense ways when concerning the deceased.
Control Arms Campaign (2003 -2006)
It was a campaign created by 3 large human rights organisations; Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms. It was a campaign against the global arms trade, and the violence, crime and human rights violations that resulted as a consequence. The campaigners wanted action to create a legally binding international arms treaty to stop weapon trade in areas where it exacerbated violence. They created a ‘visual petition’ which did not rely on signatures, but photo contributions. It was called the ‘Million Faces petition’. It was set to counter the UN conference on arms trade in 2006.
The campaign asked members of organisations to submit pictures of themselves, with a slogan or writing, and it was used to form part of the petition. They could not submit more than one, similar to a written petition. It served two purposes, one to create a sense of solidarity in the global audience, and the other to end the arms crisis. The sheer amount of photos demonstrated the level of support, from varying nations, and the global ‘agreement’ to ceasing arms trade. Alongside this, although the people were not there in person, the photos were employed as part of the protest during the UN conference. They served as a substitute of the people who participated in the petition.
The success of the campaign relies on the ability of the pictures to draw the petitioners closer and relies on the belief the size of the movement (and audience) matters.
Mothers of the Disappeared (1976 – 1983)
This campaign was to address the thousands of people who were abducted by the Argentinan government when suspected for being ‘subversive’. The government was formed of a right-wing, militarist government and during the time almost 10000 to 30000 people disappeared and never returned.
Demanding justice for the dead, in 1979, after two years of regular weekly meetings and searches to find their lost children, they created an organisation. Initially they wanted to know what had happened to their children as bodies were not discovered. After years of no success or response from the government, the organisation split into two factions. One was to investigate the way in which their children were murdered and another to ensure the fate of the disappeared is not forgotten. They also worked with groups to unite children with families, as well as international organisations to help them with their cause.
The campaign uses pictures of the lost loved ones, which highlighted not what could disappear, but what has disappeared. The photos intensify the campaign as they have lost their family, and in the Catholic region, the force of religion and connections served to help their campaign. Through the mother and ‘unbreakable bond’ the child may have been absent from protests, but seemed there in spirit. With enlarged photos, dates of disappearance and ages, it made the campaign seem more close in feelings of motherhood and loss, regardless of the distance.
They marched to the president’s residence, heavily guarded by the force who exterminated their children. The pictures evoked emotion, and the photos of the absent which made them present again, played a massive role in driving sympathy and action. The photos are not employed to boost numbers; they were used as an emotive tool.
The demands of the group were to bring those to justice to those tortured and murdered. This demand was made more valid by the democratic government that succeed the government in 1983. Those that were prosecuted were pardoned in 1990 and it was not successful to find and convict the perpetrators. The organisation also demanded that this event was not forgotten and that the potential lives of the lost children is always remembered.
Not in my Name (2002- 2003)
To demonstrate a more resonant and powerful use of photographic absence, the Not in my Name campaign employed the use of photos of citizens and innocents. It was a slogan employed by the UK Stop the War Coalition group. For many of these groups, they were against the belief that the UK and US government were just in invasion of Iraq and aggression for the sake of UK and US citizens.
This highlighted the somewhat fragmented relationship between the state and citizens. The citizens felt their personal and national safety would be more comprised by invasion and aggression, not protected. The Not in my Name campaign shows how the state does not represent the citizens.
The slogan of ‘Not in my Name’ not only articulates the feelings of protesters, but also those who are unable to speak – this could include family, friends and strangers who were not present. Photos used in the marches also substituted people who were not present, boosting the presence. The fact images of children were used also suggests that war threatened their future, and that their future may ‘disappear’ mirroring the way the children were not in attendance. The photos therefore indicate, or allude to the fact, that something may not exist if the campaigners don’t get their way.
The power of family and private photos
Photos hold a great way in families and relations. Photos are a shareable medium which are taken of family members perhaps to remember or capture a special moment, they can then be shared with relatives. They are private affairs and not necessarily intended for public viewing or scrutiny. Photos bring families closer together even when they are apart, playing on the role of proximity and distance.
With the creation of photography, and coupled with migration, during the 19th century, photos brought families closer together and during that time served as a reminder of what is here and there. Family photos are regarded as personal and intimate, and not intended for public circulation. Therefore, when they are used, it is to send a powerful message about a person or place and perhaps create an opinion of them.
The context of a family viewing with family photos means that when used for publicity draws on the senses of family, home and belonging. Photos, especially personal ones, have the ability to draw connections, create emotions and create a sense of nostalgia that a professional photo cannot manifest. They provoke strong emotions, and often, are in family situations that are relatable. Family photos are rarely of the mundane every day, but are taken on special occasions likes holidays, birthdays or first days at school. This can be said for many photo collections.
Professional photos, say of families, clubs or teams are predictable and conventional too – often in the same, premediated pose. The same can be said for photos to family where you try to represent your best side or best self. They serve as evidence that you are doing well, succeeding and generally are living well to serve as a message to the audience.
Due to the largely conventional way of these photos, with the similar poses and style, they are very relatable. Therefore, when they leave the family ‘sphere’ and enter a public audience, they are instantly recognised as a family photo. It creates a sense of solidarity and sense of identification.
Undermining the power of family photos
Family photos are seen as useful due to their relatable nature. However, as they are similar to other family situations, they are also fairly benign. They are not visually stimulating, while often blurry or off centre as well. The content is fairly predictable too. There are often so many as well, so many be overlooked and rarely revisited. Although they can provoke a response, they have ambivalent qualities too. Often non obtrusive in nature, they can fade into invisibility. Due to this, it somewhat undermines the use of family photos in evoking support for demands. Family photos, much like in the presence of the home, are largely ignored.
Denial plays a role in the power and influence of images. Given the widespread circulation of atrocities in the world and calls for action, why is it largely ignored or why movements do not have a global momentum?
NGOs and charities need to fund raising awareness and marketing more than resolving the cause itself. Circulation into the mainstream media and appealing to the audience through mailshots and such are not always engaging or produce a large enough reaction. The images and medium are seen but not acted on.
There are a variety of reasons why photos and the media can be ignored on pressing issues but largely it is due to the large distribution and network of images and news, more so in this globalised and mediated world. Due to the availability of cameras and the ability to share and network photos, there is a lot of data on the web and in the media. Living in the mediated world that demands your attention means that photos, in order to cope, are overlooked or ‘ignored’. They also may be the same picture or the same issue which may switch off the audience. It can also desensitise us to the photos overtime and once horrifying images may be commonplace. This medium which once made events proximate now become distance again.
Historical ways of seeing and reacting to events
In the second half of the 19th century was a period in which photography became a widespread technology. Colonialism impacted boundaries and connections, as well as underpinned globalisation. People began to move and shift for a variety of reasons.
The Royal Geographical Society (RGS) supported many expeditions and explorations to otherwise unknown nations and terrains. Many expeditions took cameras to capture information for study and investigation. By 1930, the RGS had taken 75000 photographs. These photos would be circulated not just in geographical circles, but commercially too. These photos were used to bring distant places close to the audience.
However, often the photos were staged in ways that replicated artwork and reports mirrored existing descriptions of areas, rarely challenging them. These images were taken in an already conventional sense. Long before photos, writers and travellers depicted what they experienced and saw. This already created an image, or stigma, to certain populations and locations. Landscape pictures were not too dissimilar to paintings, and that same said for sports like hunting. This created a Western sense of images, but also consolidated a them and us sentiment. Moreover, the photographers were well educated men, and they would annotate the pictures like so as well. Often the pictures were received in the context of discussion and debate, often relating to the new finds.
A result of these finds also consolidated a sense of superiority and inferiority. Europeans regarded themselves as more civilised than the aboriginal cultures it encountered. Aboriginal cultures were often regarded as immoral, barbaric and less technologically advanced, and for many colonial powers, these cultures needed to be replaced with the more ‘advanced’ culture that would ‘help’ them.
Alongside this, attitudes between race and ethnicity were consolidated. Anthropologists would study societies and the people that occupied them, and would take photos. The biological differences between the races was categorised during the colonial times. With the help of photography, serving as a record, people were identified and categorised. The photos would be controlled and impersonal, while some evidently where it was against the subjects will. People were also measured alongside photos in an attempt to ‘distinguish’ them. These individuals soon lost their personal identity and came to represent a race or culture. So people are seen and regarded in the way national media and journals wanted to present them.
However, at the end of colonial rule, these photographs were used to end regimes, highlight discrimination and an end to slavery or racial segregation. Also, the photographs were a useful tool in tracing family roots and reuniting families that were perhaps dispersed or separated from migration. NGOs and charities are still cautious about how societies are represented given the history of some areas.
Media representation of developing countries
The way developing nations are represented still resonate the colonies before it. As we know the media cannot present everything truthfully or represent everything in the same way. The way in which places in the developing world are presented is often produced less consistently. More many, they feel as though Western media still presents developing nations as inferior, barbaric and distant. It is this distance which of course makes the Western civilisations feel less responsible.
There are 4 aspects of creating distance between developing nations;
- Lack of coverage
Often there is a lack of coverage of developing worlds, which forms part of mediated communication. Between 1989 and 2004, the number of factual shows of the developing world halved. The coverage increased in 2003, but that was due to the wat with Iraq.
- Selective coverage
The coverage the audience sees in the Western world is very selective, often of war, poverty, conflict, famine, disease and more. There may be coverage of visits to these nations by Western representatives, or of sporting individuals and teams. When a disaster is covered, people local to the events are seen as passive sufferers.
- Focus on disasters
The Western media focuses on disasters and its victims, more so in developing nations. This consolidates the idea of difference between them and us, and that their infrastructure is somewhat inferior to our own. It also creates the idea the population is too impoverished and uneducated to cope with the circumstances.
- Lack of connections
During the reporting of disasters, focus is on one area or group of people, and how it affects them and not us. This creates a sense of distance, and does not create a connection to help or assist with the plight, rather that these nations depend on aid and relief from foreign bodies. For some disasters Western nations and corporations may be responsible, so again the blame is laid on the passive victims.
Disasters are seen to happen in certain areas only, and, that the citizens cannot do anything to help themselves. When reported on mainstream media there are images of victims and destroyed infrastructure to highlight the lack of such – and also highlighting the necessity for foreign aid. Although some react and donate, they do so thinking money will resolve the situation. Likewise, the audience can just become desensitised to the images. The images are seen but not acted upon and so demand is denied.