Columbia, MO (September 3, 2015) – Since arriving back at school I’ve spent much of my time studying the Associated Press style of writing. A nonprofit collaborative news bureau founded in 1846, the AP has grown into the world’s largest source of news. So big, in fact, that their content reaches half of the world’s population every day, according to their style book. Over the years the AP has been there covering history not just with their stories, but with photos.
It is often said that pictures are worth a thousand words. Some pictures are worth that and then some. Why? Because pictures have a very real ability to change history.
The first example of this comes from the Civil War. My high school history teacher talked in great length about how photography changed how civilians viewed the war. For much of history war was seen as a noble thing. Young men went off to war with the pride of being a hero. This centuries old mindset was shattered when American newspapers began publishing photos of the gruesome battlefields. Public support for the war would fluctuate as the next round of pictures made it into the Union papers.
Fifty years after the Civil War and 100 years prior to today, a select group of soldiers carried cameras as they scurried around trenches in war-torn Europe. By this time in history middle to upper class Americans could afford a camera like one of the first from Kodak or the well-known Brownie. Photos from the Great War were censored before making it back to America, but the public could still see what their countrymen were enduring.
Jump forward another fifty years and one will see more modern examples of photography affecting public opinion. This infamous picture shows Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a suspected Viet Cong official. Loan, a South Vietnamese official, simply walked away afterwards, according to famous photojournalist Eddie Adams. This photo was taken in 1968 in the midst of outrage over America’s role in Vietnam.
Twenty-one years later the AP was in Tianamen Square, Bejing, to capture this iconic shot. It was 1989 and China was cracking down on pro-democracy demonstrators. This image became the historic symbol of the movement. The fate of the man is still unknown.
I could continue on with famous photos until the cows come home, but I’ve given enough background to explain why I’m writing this post in the first place. This week the world has watched as thousands of migrants and refugees have fled despicable conditions in middle eastern nations like Syria. These people are making the journey to wealthier European nations like Germany where they can start a better life.
While there has been much drama this week regarding those who made it as far north as Hungary, thousands of others have perished trying to travel over the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Of all the scenes throughout this humanitarian crisis, none have attracted as much international attention as a picture of a three-year-old boy.
Since this photo went viral, officials in Hungary announced they will allow immigrants to continue on their journeys to Austria and Germany.This decision ended a stalemate that had led to refugees camping out in the plaza of an important Hungarian train station; others have now begun to walk even after spending any remaining money on a bus or train ticket. The photo’s popularity has made leaders of nations rethink their handling of the situation.
My love of photography combined with my fascination with history and this very real fact that one photo can change the course of history truly makes me wonder if photojournalism is the career path for me.
This week one photo of one victim forced the world to take action.
Because, unfortunately, seeing is believing.