How Can Photographs Help Create Social Change? Essay
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Photography shows us the world, it exposes us to unfamiliar situations and new experiences. Though we are able to see the world, we can only see the world that the photographer created. According to Susan Sontag, what we understand and gain from looking at a photograph is truly just merely our interpretation of the picture. The viewer is only exposed to what is in a frame without any context whatsoever. I qualify Sontag’s claim that photography limits our understanding of the world.
A picture is just a snapshot of one moment, in one place, through the eyes of one person.
Photography has achieved the job of manipulation, it has been used to trick the audience’s eyes and have them perceive things in a different way. For example, ads are continuously thrown in our faces, distorting the truth that is portrayed. Cigarette advertisements from the 1930s to the 1950s all made cigarettes look amazing. Enhancing the warm colors, editing little details to appeal to our emotions, and showing happy, good-looking models smoke made everyone believe that smoking was okay. But the thing is that smoking isn’t beneficial in any shape or form, causing lung cancer and an abundance of other diseases/side effects. Those changes through photoshop that the photographer made for the ad tricked people’s minds and completely altered the message that was being delivered. Photography gives a small glimpse of reality, but one that has been altered to the photographer’s idealism.
However, as Sontag made clear, photography does clarify events and fills in unknown gaps “photographs fill in blanks in our mental pictures of the present and the past.” Photographs give evidence and reaffirm the past but they do not truly show you how a citizen would have felt. How the local perceived the places and the memories associated with them. All of the emotions tied to what is being photographed is not portrayed back to the viewer. For instance, a picture of a beautiful old Victorian house could have been a local’s childhood home where he or she grew up and experienced so many new things. The local could look at this house and picture the interior and memories from the past. But to the audience’s eye, all we see is the outside of the house, not the inside, then what it is surrounded by, only what is on the surface. It takes one to be there to experience the true emotions that were tied to it.
To a certain degree, like Sontag claims, photography does limit our understanding of the world. Pictures are taken by photographers who choose what they want to express. By doing so, reality has become altered into something that it is not. It has now become a world that was created by one human, and his or her needs, wants, and desires. Photography also fails to give background about the photo, providing no context clues for the audience to infer from and no way to truly be sure about what is happening in the photo. It is just a single snapshot of a specific moment.