Photography Shaping Opinion and View
Contributing as a Mentor to an online course offered by the New York Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) brought some insights and reflection on the use of the camera in shaping the viewer's perception and insights, even questioning the authenticity and challenging the truth.
A soon as photo film became available to document events, photojournalists were able to document political events, wars and other everyday situations using either single or multiple images. That allowed for public opinion to be influenced and shaped. The digital era put a camera in nearly everybody's hands, but being able to shape views is generally a more challenging task. The use (and misuse) of photographs has a long history, but it was only with President Kennedy in the USA that a first presidential photographer was tasked with documenting the Presidency. Politicians around the world took notice, particularly in an era when in most democracies, few are able to identify politicians other than the leader of the government. Images are powerful tools to convey their messages and shaping their public image.
The power of images, single or in combination is a powerful tool. Recently I came across numerous exchanges about the way photography can shape or damage the image of a public figure. The legacy of Pete Souza, President Barack Obama's White House photographer was compared to the photographer tasked with visually presenting and documenting the Trump presidency. Pete Souza knew how to tell stories with single photographs, combinations to shape public opinion of a historic, first black president. A skill that Souza also had applied 25 years earlier to President Ronald Reagan. Good chemistry between the public figure and photographer, nearly unlimited access, and outstanding photographic skills allowed for unparalleled visual documentation in the digital era!
Shaping public opinion with unaltered press photos requires both good photography and photo editing skills. That a picture is worth a 1000 words can be a tiresome, sometimes overused, expression. It is sometimes attributed to Napoleon, who in the absence of cameras used the word 'sketch'. Yet, professional photojournalists are becoming an endangered species. In the age of social media, most reader venture barely beyond photographs and headlines, in the process shaping public opinion.
'Faking It', a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, demonstrated that right from the beginning of photography pictures were being manipulated. Being 'airbrushed out of history' took shape during Lenin's power in Russia and elevated to an art form during Stalin.
Yet, the effective use of, sometimes symbolic props, various angles, lens settings, the dynamics of various focal lengths, combined with the use of light and colour in the composition will and can shape images and views.
Keywords: documentary, manipulating public opinion, moma, narrative, photo, photo camera, photographer, photography, photojournalism, seeing through photographs', shaping public opinion
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