Other Uses Of Photography

Errol Morris this week published a fascinating blog entry on the use (or misuse) of photography entitled “Photography as a Weapon” in the New York Times.  In our work at Blue Earth, we promote truth-telling, the use of photography as a tool of enlightenment and social change.  Our project photographers often work at great risk to speak truth to power by capturing the reality of the everyday world in the lens of a camera.

But power can have its own agenda.  Only a short time ago, Colin Powell used photographs at the UN to prepare the way for an invasion.  Morris notes how grainy, low resolution images of buildings in Iraq, even without digital manipulation, became a powerful weapon.

There is a larger point.  I don’t know what these buildings were really used for.  I don’t know whether they were used for chemical weapons at one time, and then transformed into something relatively innocuous, in order to hide the reality of what was going on from weapons inspectors.  But I do know that the yellow captions influence how we see the pictures. “Chemical Munitions Bunker” is different from “Empty Warehouse” which is different from “International House of Pancakes.”  The image remains the same but we see it differently.

As individuals working for positive social change, it can be disheartening to think of our photographs potentially being used for destructive ends.  The simple act of taking the picture can never be the end of the story.  An image can be arresting, but the caption can make the difference.

- Bart J. Cannon, Program Manager

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