“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life” – Joan Miro
Throughout this degree I have always found it hard to get to exhibitions (with my health) and as such my exhibition list is rather small. However, I was extremely lucky to go to Steve Backshalls Wild World show yesterday. Whilst the focus was on his animal encounters, information, and inspiring talks, he did speak greatly about the impact we as human beings have on this planet. He said “As quoted by the great philosopher…Spiderman, with great power, comes great responsibility’ He spoke of how we have evolved and how people see themselves as the dominant race but stressed that this was not the case. Every animal is perfectly adapted to its habitat, it has evolved that way, beavers may not build skyscrapers but they build dams which harbour and maintain an incredible ecosystem, the corpse flower that produces a stench like rotten flesh which draws in beetles from near and far in the hope of finding carrion.The beetles scramble into the flower to find nothing and leave unknowing that they will now spread the spores from the flower thus pollinating the jungle. That said Steve said we are in charge of this beautiful planet which means we are also the only ones who can mess it up and therefore the only ones to save it. His talk was so inspiring, I left feeling moved, inspired ready to take on the world.
I decided to look at some landscape photographers who use their craft and skill to create impact, to bring change and to highlight the danger the world is facing to generate change. I also want to research what type of photo is more powerful at getting across a point.
- A hard-hitting expose
- An innocent photo of a baby animal
- An evocative and photo packed with symbolism
Hard hitting image
When it comes to a chilling, heartbreaking photo in nature, many may feel haunted by it, this doesn’t always necessarily generate the change the artist wanted.
- The shock of the image raises adrenaline levels
- Shocks and places guilt on the person to donate/campaign
- Inspires to share with others
- Creates a domino effect
- The shock is overwhelming
- Image stays imprinted on mind
- Person removes self from image
- No action is taken
Innocent photo of a baby animal
I assessed my own emotions when viewing the image below taken by Brian Skerry. The image is part of a set which features several beautiful seal pups and then suddenly four horrific images which I couldn’t bear to look at. It was such a shock I haven’t stopped thinking about it (and ways to help them)
- I saw the adorable innocent seal pup staring directly at me.
- Heart filled with love
- Motherly emotions
- Read short caption underneath of seal fur trade.
- Can’t understand how people can be so evil.
- Anger at the fur trade.
- Looks back at baby seals face
- Turmoil of emotions the urge to do something!
So we can see how an innocent photo is much more powerful than a shocking image. The contrast of the fluffy baby seal and that hard hitting sentence creates a boiling rage of emotions, blending innocence and brutality. I could not bear to look at a photo of a seal pup being harmed but the pain and anger you would feel from that is matched in the innocent photo coupled with the headline.
My market research came back with results that reflected my overall opinions. One source said “being shown a traumatic photo will make people avoid it but they will still be eaten by guilt, however seeing a beautiful photo of a seal pup and a brutal headline ensures more action is taken to create change as we are seeing this animal or landscape as it should be.”
The photo is essentially creating a feeling of guilt.
A symbolic photo
The image above is very striking as it features an innocent baby seal, of course, this part of the degree is about landscape. Obviously, the contrast of a baby seal and a ravaged landscape is going to affect each people differently, the majority will be drawn to the baby seal, can we elicit the same response about a landscape? Again I feel this depends on the viewer. From my point of view, I feel an affinity with nature, I feel pain when a tree is cut down. Pain when I see a once bountiful landscape scarred and pockmarked from the massacre of the forest. Pain when I see those trees dead on the back of the loggers truck.
So to convey emotion to others of a landscape being destroyed we may choose the image above. If we were depicting the devastation of deforestation we could use the hard hitting image, the innocent baby monkey staring into the camera who’s lost his mother but this is not landscape. A very good way to portray the pain of a landscape is through symbolism.
Symbolic photos can be real or edited, this image below taken for WWFs campaign to raise awareness of deforestation is so striking. It works on several levels.
- It is immediately clear the forest is being depicted as a set of lungs. This is striking and beautiful.
- Your eyes are drawn to the ravaged part, they look like a smoker’s lung. The orange stands out against the beautiful verdant green.
- The rivers and paths resemble veins of a lung
- It feels like the forest is crying out to us
- We feel pain, a sense of helplessness then see the tag line
- Before it’s too late.
The tagline here is powerful in that it doesn’t ask you for help, it doesn’t list terrible facts, it shows the photo and allows that to generate the emotional response it needs.
I am subscribed to the newsletter of photography, a daily email packed with photographic information. Incredulously the day after writing this the daily email popped up in my inbox. Imagine my surprise when the subject of the day was ‘The Power of Photography as a Conservational Tool‘ It felt like everything was coming together and I couldn’t hep but think the next upcoming assignment on beauty could easily be about how beauty is being destroyed.
I asked my course mates if they knew of any good conservational photographers and they were so helpful sending me information and photographers. One student even put me in touch with their former tutor who had a great passion for conservation photography. In the next blog post, I shall research and comment on these photographers.