Posts Tagged ‘Huynh Cong Ut’

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The Role of Photography in Society

December 30, 2008

By Bruno Zabaglio


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"The Disembarkation at Marseilles" by Peter Paul Rubens, 1622-1625

Before the invention of photography, circa 1840, the production of visual imagery was the monopoly of few individuals who possessed the ability to reproduce (by hand) pictures; those people were known as artists.  With the invention of a mechanical instrument capable to reproduce reality not once, but many times over, a new era was born for the role of images in society.

Besides being a tool for recording personal moments in someone’s life, photography has become an extraordinary tool for advertising, news reporting, science, politics, and many form of entertainment. Photography has also entered the field of fine art.
Photographs influence what we buy and where we buy it, let us experience visually events near our homes as well on the other side of the world and outside this world, help scientists discover new theories, politicians gain our support, and are the visual base for personal and social economic communication.

Kate Moss in a Gucci ad

Kate Moss in a Gucci ad

The world of advertising bombards us with pictures of beautiful and sensual people pretending to use a specific brand of shampoo or underwear or soft drink with the hope that we the consumers, consciously or unconsciously, will buy it.  Photographs have become the middle man between manufacturers and consumers.

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Huynh Cong (Nick) Ut, Vietnam Napalm, Trang Bang (1972)

In the news business photo reporting has been a powerful tool for the mass population to feel the impact of events far away such as the atrocities of war, destruction from natural disasters, and, as on September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks.  Photographs of dreadful events have changed history.  As an example a famous photograph taken by Huynh Cong Ut in 1972, picturing children running down a road after their village was attacked during the Vietnam War, became a symbol for the international movement against the war.  Pictures of the planes hitting the Twin Towers and the picture of the people throwing themselves off the top of the towers hoping to survive were shown all over the globe and will always bring back the memories of how stunned we all were when it occurred.

World Trade Center, New York, Sept. 11, 2001 (NBC News)

World Trade Center, New York, Sept. 11, 2001

Those kinds of photographs aren’t just a visual recording of an event; they become the event in our memories.
In politics photographs usually become a way to emphasize how honest and trustworthy a particular candidate is (smiling and next to his or her nice looking family) and how dishonest and uncaring the opponent is (usually portrayed with a smirk on their face and nowhere near any family members).  The photographs have generally taken the place of the old-fashioned door to door encounter and hand shaking.
In art, because photography has a definite relationship with painting, there was at the beginning a shifting around of many painters becoming photographers or starting to utilize photography as a tool in their painting process.  By the start of the nineteen century the new media had gained a place in the field of visual arts.  Professional photographers, besides shooting a portrait or a wedding, many times capture images that convey more than an event.  Their photographs capture and communicate an emotion to the viewer.