The invention of photography date back to 1830s. This form of art has made it possible for all of us to see the world in new ways, change history and the way we do things and most importantly, change the discourse of life-threatening topics such as war. During the early age times, only members of the upper or royal classes could have their images made. It was until the mid-20th century that everyone could take pictures and share it with the world.
For centuries, artists have been using images to convey concepts, ideas, and occasion in a more powerful way than any word could express. Nowadays, photography has become a predominant means of communication. How could we have managed to do without photography whose impact in our lives is seen everywhere: family memories, parties and weddings, travel destinations or adventure, passports, identity, books & magazines, news, and entertainment etc.
While photography has a positive influence on our everyday lives, there are few instances where it had the greatest impact that changed the world. At the very best, these situations remind us that a photograph can have the power to transport us to unseen worlds. Some of the photographs from the last century illustrate how powerful it can be in opening human eyes, spreading the news, changing opinions, and igniting movements.
Nick Ut’s harrowing photos of a young girl in Vietnam who had stripped off her burning clothes after terribly burned in a napalm attack is still clear in our minds so do other. The photograph taken by Nilufer Demir of a lifeless Syrian boy being carried by a Turkish policeman, Matt Black’s photographs on poverty in modern day America, Ron Haviv’s photo of supporters of the then Panamanian dictator General Manuel Noriega attacking Panama’s elected Vice President Guillermo Ford, and South African Carter’s photo about a starving girl in the famine-stricken Sudan, all had nearly same impact. These photographs increased the awareness of issues facing human beings around the world in a way that had a significant influence on the decisions made about those issues.
For Instance, Nick Ut’s photo, popularly referred to as “The Terror of War” has long been linked to the ending of the Vietnam War. However, it is difficult to prove the actual role, but we all know that it had great influence in bringing out the cruelty of the war and as a result sparking public outrage. Immediately after the photo was published, the war ended. It is believed that Nick’s photo exposed the faceless brutality of the war. The pressure from the public led to the removal of American troops in Vietnam.
In a similar manner, Nilufer Demir’s photo of a drowned Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi helped in bringing out the reality of the war on that country and the refugee crisis. People saw the human cost of the situation. They sympathized with fellow human beings who were going through such challenges. What followed was increasing urge on the governments to allow more refugees as a means of saving these people from hapless fates. There were positive responses to the situation. A case in point is, the then UK Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to let in more refugees from the region.
Matt Blacks photos which often referred to as “Geography of Poverty”, captured the reality of the extent of American poverty. He traveled across more than 70 towns and cities to bring out the reality of the situation. Although there is no clear immediate action attributed to the photos, he helped to bring out how greed, corruption, and power had taken center stage in what was once a great nation.
The images captured by Ron Haviv in Panama is another clear example of how major decisions were influenced by photography. Months after the photo was published by Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News and World Report, the then President of the United States, George H.W. Bush cited the images to justify the US invasion of Panama. His work now exhibits at Anastacia Photo gallery in New York.
The above is just a few examples of how photography could influence major decisions that changed the world. There are other great works of various photographers across the globe such as The Falling Man by Richard Draw who captured a man falling from World Trade Center during September 11 attacks, 1989 Tiananmen Square protest as captured by Jeff Widener, and 1936 Loyalist Militiaman as he died as captured by Robert Capa. This photo generated a stir after being published in the French magazine, Vu. In some quarters, it was seen as an anti-war statement.
The continual advancement in technology, especially the digital photography, is expected to enhance the influence of photography. Today, about a half a billion images are uploaded to the web every day. Now being the social media era, the distribution or sharing of photos is even faster.