The “Relationship” Between Photo and Viewer

14 11 2010

On photophilanthropy.com there was a post written by Sarah Rennie discussing the actual relationship between a photo and the person viewing it. It is a very enlightening short essay.
Photographs that are meant to “inspire” people to do something (in this case, aid a nonprofit) aren’t like normal photographs. They leave something in a person that a normal, not very exciting photo doesn’t have the power to leave. In the words of Rennie, “[they] burn into memory. Hard to forget, they are even harder to avoid.” It is the purpose of these photos to make a small change in many individuals so that the individuals can make a big change in the world. The photos are supposed to burn; but how is the real question.
These types of photographs challenge what we thought to be our correct understanding of the world. They bring in a whole different dimension that we maybe in the back of our minds knew existed, but didn’t think about. Personally, because of my photojournalism research, I have had many of these encounters. It is not so much that I didn’t know famine, violence, war, etc. existed in the world; it is more that society had numbed me to their existence to the point in which I accepted it. The photographs that I had looked at had caused that acceptance to recede and created a new emotion: desire, the desire to help and change.
The interaction between inspiring photographs and an individual is far more than just looking and understanding what is happening. Rennie claims that “images communicate with us, but in a manner more akin to touch than any discernible language.”
“Sometimes a photo knocks me out” says Rennie.
Here are some examples of photos that have “knocked me out”:


An Iraqi prisoner of war with a hood over his head comforts his son at a holding center.


Nine Kurdish rebels and two of the Shah’s policemen being
executed by firing squad in revolutionary Iran.


Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist priest in Southern Vietnam, burns himself to death protesting the government’s torture policy against priests. Thich Quang Dug never made a sound or moved while he was burning.


After South Vietnam planes accidentally drop a bomb on a town.


A child in Uganda about to starve to death, and a missionaire, hand in hand.


The covering of a dead child.


Scared Face.

You can feel these photos touching you; their messages seeping quickly into your eyes and falling into your heart.

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2 responses

15 11 2010
Mister Fischer

You recently wrote that you’re running out of energy and interest for this topic, but you’re uncovering really, really powerful things. Your thinking about the way that photos work and how they shape our perceptions are right on target and very thoughtful. You’ve found great material. You’re keeping ME interested!

16 11 2010
jacquelinemerrill

These photos, especially the one of the burning monk are extremely powerful and they most definitely are burning images into my head.

You’re blog layout is looking preeetty cool!

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