Pretending to Be…


The Power of the Photo
February 29, 2008, 5:33 pm
Filed under: Pretending to be an Artist

I am no photographer. Nor do I claim to be one. But just watching the bevy of amateur self proclaimed photojournalist as they snap away sometimes saddens me. Myself, being a designer, know that there are certain responsibilities that that title holds. Making something cool only for the fact that it looks cool is irresponsible. There must be reasonings behind ideas, development based on explorations of interior space, materials, light, site, and a collection of other aspects. Such is the case in photography. I feel like the person who takes the photo has a responsibility. Truly a picture is worth a thousand words. But more importantly a picture can tell a story. And even without manipulation photographs can lie.

Take this famous photo from the Vietnam Conflict. It was snapped by the Pulitzer Prize winning Eddie Adams. In my favorite magazine, AdBusters it was featured which got me thinking like this. It said:

“This photo soon became the the most defining anit-war image of the Vietnam Conflict. The coldness of the killing, a single shot to the side of the head while the prisoner was handcuffed, cemented the perception that the United States and its allies were war criminals.”

But Eddie Adams who later wrote in Time magazine years later said he sympathized with Loan, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who is holding the gun in the image. He had just watched the Viet Cong brutally murder 34 of his soldiers and their family members. Eddie Adams also later wrote that:

“The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the General with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them…[but] they are only half-truths.”

So whose the villain who’s the victim? Which one is the terrorist? The power to decide that is in the photographers hands, and it is a power that holds tremendous responsibility. In a NYT article:

When General Loan was severely wounded while charging a Viet Cong hideout three months later and taken to Australia for treatment, there was such an outcry there against him that he was moved to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he was repeatedly denounced in Congress.
Back in Saigon, Mr. Loan, who had been relieved of his command after having been wounded, seemed a changed man, devoting time to showering presents on orphans. At the fall of Saigon his pleas for American help in fleeing were ignored. But he and his family escaped in a South Vietnamese plane.

After his presence in the United States became known there was a move to deport him as a war criminal. But the efforts fizzled, and Mr. Loan, whose right leg had been amputated, settled in northern Virginia, where he eventually opened his pizzeria, which he operated until 1991 when publicity about his past led to a sharp decline in business. As a message scrawled on a restroom wall put it, ”We know who you are.”

Im just tired of all the self proclaimed photographers that take pictures and they have no meaning. Photography is an art, and can be a powerful form of expression, much like music or writing. We need more people who care about what kind of pictures they take, and take pride in the meanings they hold.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

As a aspiring photographer, there are certain responsiblities that I know i must take one sooner or later. And I too am guilty of taking a photo with no true meaning behind it but just because it looks good. But that photo is intense. However, it is true, a photo is still only a half truth. Very powerful power, and very powerful entry

Comment by An Rong

I think I read somewhere that Eddie Adams wished he never took that picture.

Comment by louie




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