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I just read a very thought-provoking  post, here at David Campbell’s blog, about the use of emotionally charged images in photojournalism. What grabbed me was his first line:

“Contemporary news photographs are chosen less for their descriptive function and more for their capacity to provide symbolic markers to familiar interpretations and conventional narratives.”

He was talking about this photo:

If I am interpreting this correctly, he’s referring to the practice of selecting photographs based on how well they make things float to the top of the reader’s consciousness that the editor wants the reader to think about. In this case, it’s the classic starving kid in Africa shot attached to a story that has practically zero to do with starving African kids. Well, the article in question is about some G8 countries welshing out on their financial commitments to sub-Saharan Africa, which I suppose could starve some African kids if you’re willing to read enough into it, but that isn’t the point.

Lots of people and organizations use photographs to elicit a specific reaction from viewers. This is often when photography is at its most powerful, and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it if you’re intellectually honest about it. What is wrong, in my humble opinion, is calling it news. It’s propaganda.


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