This is a guest post from Debbi Morello. It follows my recent post about child privacy and safety online, and draws on Debbi’s personal experiences to offer her take on the use of the image in that post.
After reading Danny’s post and insightful comments on “Could This Be Your Child?”, I got to thinking about the provocative image used with the post and some of the reactions to the image.
So, I wanted to speak to the power of images, whether they are shocking and controversial, stunning and serene. Certain images become iconic for one simple reason – they convey a powerful message or tell a story in a way that words never could.
You see, I believe in the power of images, no matter what the debate, or the controversy an image may raise – the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true. Iconic images have changed the world and many photographers have risked their lives to make them.
Danny’s choice to use the powerful yet grotesque image to depict child abuse was not an easy one. Most editors in today’s publishing environment would have taken the politically correct route to avoid the wrath of readers and parent companies.
However, one cannot argue there have been hundreds of thousands of images since the invention of the camera. If not for a particular image, or a body of work, outcomes or events would have been different.
I know about pictures that touch you in such a way it is impossible not to take action. I became a photojournalist because of the powerful effect pictures had on me. Soon I would understand how children are the most vulnerable of victims and yet, children are still our greatest hope.
I was struck by the devastation in the countries I worked – the horror of war, disease, natural and man-made disasters. I worked with NGOs and news organizations and time and time again, it was the pictures coming out of those situations that led to action.
UNICEF, other UN organizations and many NGOs now have programs to meet the needs of children affected by wars and disasters.
Sadly, despite international law to protect children, the laws are repeatedly broken; children are abducted, turned into child soldiers, sexually abused and exploited in other ways. Yet while we can read many reports and news stories, I believe nothing compels someone to act more than one image that says it all.
With today’s technology, communications and information is able to move around the globe in an instant. It is much more difficult to commit abuses and atrocities without touching the world’s conscience. It is also difficult for governments and civilized nations not to act, though we know oftentimes that the response falls short.
Powerful images have had the ability to mobilize a nation, move societies and the world to take notice. “Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world,” AP photojournalist Eddie Adams once said. Adams’ image of an officer shooting a handcuffed prisoner in the head at point-blank range had great impact on the attitudes of Americans about the Vietnam War.
While we know the importance of images having a powerful effect for change, it is impossible to make those images without feeling the pain and grief of others.
When a photographer’s images make people feel the pain of others or motivates a community or the world into action, then perhaps we have made a difference.
Perhaps the picture worth a thousand words has changed the world. Just a bit.
About the author: Debbi has had an eclectic career path, including cause marketing for a little paper that was just getting started called USA Today. Inspired to pursue photojournalism, she spent nearly 15 years working for news organizations on several continents and winning international awards.
For the last 10 years she has combined her keen eye and storytelling skills as a communications and outreach specialist for humanitarian organizations, U.S. government and UN agencies worldwide. You can see Debbi’s work at DebbiMorello.com, connect with her on Twitter at @debmorello and read more of her thoughts at www.debmorello.amplify.com.
image: Debbi Morello