A Persuasive Image
1. Find three examples of landscape photographs (or the collective efforts of a set of photographs) that are being used to assert a particular ideological point of view. Look at images that have been used in advertising or other commercial applications, as well as within fine art and documentary photography. This might be a very explicit message, or something a lot subtler. If text is used, consider how this relates to the image.LP&E, p.120
• In your learning log, make some brief comments (around 300 words ) describing how the photographer or designer used the photograph and how the image communicates its intended message.
2. Consider an issue (social, political or environmental) that you feel strongly about. Design an image that you think will have a persuasive effect upon a viewer. This could be a deliberately rough photomontage or something more polished. You don’t necessarily need to make the photograph or tableau; this is an exercise in generating ideas, thinking about communicating an idea and taking an ideological standpoint. ○ Annotate sketches and any other work and enter it into your learning log. This activity can be returned to and expanded upon further in Part 5 if appropriate.
[13Feb21] Landscape photographs might be defined as “exterior shots without people”. And I am going to play fast and loose with that standard because all three images I thought of – without the question to hand – involve people. All three combine reportage with propaganda (or, more precisely, propaganda and publicity. Which is which depends on the viewer’s opinions).
There is an overarching theme of refugees with a hint of Brexit. The three are the line of refugees used by the Brexit party, the drowned child refugee, Alan Kurdi, and an image of the Calais refugee camps.
In July 2015, David Cameron, then Prime Minister, described migrants seeking to enter the UK as “swarms” † resulting in widespread condemnation for using such demeaning language (Buchanan, 2015). Eleven months later he resigned after losing the Brexit referendum, during the campaign for which even greater controversy surrounded the Brexit Party’s use of a photograph of a line of refugees under the heading “Breaking Point” (fig. A1). The original photograph of migrants queueing to cross from Croatia to Slovenia was taken by Jeff Mitchell who described its use for this purpose as “unfortunate” (Beaumont-Thomas, 2016), “Photographers are there to record stories, as they happen and when they happen, in the best way we can. But what happens after that, how our images are used, can be out of our control, especially in the digital age – which is unfortunate, particularly in this case.” Mitchell continues, “The people in the photo have been betrayed by Ukip, rather than me personally. But it has backfired on Ukip. People are very intelligent – they could see this was clearly not a group of people coming to the UK. They aren’t sucked in that easily. Which makes it almost comical for Ukip, because it’s had completely the opposite effect they thought it would have.”
Jeff Mitchell, who is clearly sympathetic to the refugees, took comfort from the way the story developed, sensing that “it’s had completely the opposite effect” to UKIP and the Brexit Party’s intention (it was released four days before the vote and on the day Joe Cox was murdered). Reid (2019) suggests that any effect was marginal, deterring some wavering Leave voters, but reinforcing turnout amongst stronger supporters.
The coverage of the drowning of Alan Kurdi was almost unprecedented. The Guardian reporting that the image, by Nilüfer Demir, was viewed 20 million times in 12 hours. The story (Press Association, 2015) quotes Farida Vis, director of Sheffield University’s visual social media lab, saying “As soon as we saw the image and the response, we felt that something extraordinary was happening … We show how a handful of tweets by journalists on the ground grew into a staggering 53,000 tweets per hour as interest in the story went viral.”
Then Claire Wardle, research director at the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, “The photo of Alan Kurdi galvanised the public in a way that hours of broadcasts and thousands of column inches weren’t able to do. It has created a frame through which subsequent coverage has been positioned and compared.”
Fig. A2 shows the UK front pages the following day, image assembled from the Paperboy web site.
Figure A3 is taken from a report by Shelter Projects on their efforts to provide accommodation for refugees at the Jungle refugee site near Calais. The site was finally demolished and its occupants dispersed in October 2016. The photograph is by Giulia Ravassard.
The three photographs, all tangentially connected in subject, illustrate the fundamental truth about the ability of photographs to change minds, and that is that change is rare. As Andy Grunberg has stated, “photographic meaning [is] contingent rather than absolute” (2021, p.8) and Rory Sutherland (2022), “(w)e rarely understand what we see — so instead we see what we understand.”
Individual viewers interpret individual photographs through the filters of their experience, opinions and prejudices, so a person opposed to immigration might look at Mitchell’s queue of refugees or Ravassard’s migrant village and conclude that their fears of “invasion” are well founded; equally, a person who favours free movement would interpret those images entirely differently. The Demir image of the drowned three-year-old migrant Alan Kurdi, though, is an entirely different situation, however. Writing personally, one reason I chose to show newspaper front pages is that I cannot bear to look at the image and I am tearing-up thinking about it as I write this. Part of the reason for that is imagining my two-year-old grandson in that state. Obviously he was not born in 2015 but I can still recall the profound effect the image had on me and on others. This photograph, in my judgment, tweaked more punctums than any other for at least a decade: my standard list for other such images comprises Richard Drew’s Falling Man from 9/11; Jeff Widener’s Tank Man in Tienanmen Square; Nick Ut ‘s shot of Phan Thi Kim Phuc fleeing a Napalm bombing in Vietnam and also from that conflict, Eddie Adams’ the execution of Nguyen Van Lem. In some ways, the list reinforces my point because it serves to demonstrate my own attitude to violence and death. There are many similar lists to be found and Margaret Renkl’s in the New York Times (2020) is a good example.
One can well imagine our hypothetical anti-immigration viewer retaining that view, but becoming more aware on seeing Alan Kurdi’s body, that migration involves children and families not unlike theirs, not just able-bodied young men determined to take jobs and housing and benefits: and our free-movement supporter would be reinforced both in that view and in their disapproval of those who would seek to limit migration.
Few photographs change minds and for those few that do, the likely effect is a nudge rather than a transformation.
† One dictionary definition of the term “swarm” is “a large number of animate or inanimate things massed together and usually in motion” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.).
2. Consider an issue (social, political or environmental) that you feel strongly about. Design an image that you think will have a persuasive effect upon a viewer. This could be a deliberately rough photomontage or something more polished. You don’t necessarily need to make the photograph or tableau; this is an exercise in generating ideas, thinking about communicating an idea and taking an ideological standpoint. • Annotate sketches and any other work and enter it into your learning log. This activity can be returned to and expanded upon further in Part 5 if appropriate.LP&E, p.120
[15Feb] One of the problems I have with open but ultimately specific tasks like this is that when I have thought of my “answer” I have little inclination to enact it, I just want to move on. A similar thing happened with C&N Exc. 2.3, Illustrate a Poem. As, in this case, “[y]ou don’t necessarily need to make the photograph or tableau”, that is not an overwhelming concern.
But this is it. There is some concern locally over the state and fate of a local treasure, Avery Hill Winter Garden. This was once the playground of John ‘Colonel’ North (“in 1890 … one of the wealthiest men in the country, income derived from mineral extraction in South America and coal”, Friends of Avery Hill Park, n.d.).
At the rear of the mansion is a glasshouse, a miniature Kew Gardens containing, in one room, a statue of Galatea Reclining on a Dolphin, 1882, by Leopoldo Ansiglioni on a plinth in a pond of carp. When we first moved to the area, 30+ years ago, the glasshouse was thriving. It was at the time part of Greenwich University which had taken over site, previous Avery Hill College and my partner had an office for several years in the building to which the glasshouse is attached.
But its glory days are long gone and it has been stripped bare of plants. The last time I visited the glasshouse, while photographing dogs and owners/walkers for I&P Asg.3, it was boarded up, although Galatea could still be seen through a dirty window. Responsibility for its maintenance, much less funding, is difficult to identify.
There is a campaign by the Friends of Avery Hill Park which has met with some success and, for this exercise, I am considering how I could help.
Photographs could be a very effective means of demonstrating the plight of the glasshouse, contrasting its attractiveness and amenities of just a few years ago with its current state of dilapidation. A local campaign in free papers, libraries and other venues could maintain pressure on Greenwich Council to revive the site.
LPE Exc 3.4 References
Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Beaumont-Thomas, B. (2016) Jeff Mitchell’s best photograph: ‘These people have been betrayed by Ukip’ [online]. theguardian.com. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jun/22/jeff-mitchells-best-shot-the-column-of-marching-refugees-used-in-ukips-brexit-campaign [Accessed 14 February 2022].
Buchanan, RT. (2015) David Cameron description of migrant ‘swarm’ condemned as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘extremely inflamatory’ by human rights group [online]. independent.co.uk. Available from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/calais-crisis-live-david-cameron-says-swarm-of-illegal-migrants-will-not-be-offered-safe-haven-10426083.html [Accessed 14 February 2022].
Chandler, A. (2016) EU referendum: Nigel Farage slammed over Brexit poster showing queue of migrants [online]. standard.co.uk. Available from https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/eu-referendum-nigel-farage-slammed-over-brexit-poster-showing-queue-of-migrants-a3273836.html [Accessed 14 February 2022].
Friends of Avery Hill Park (n.d.) HISTORY OF AVERY HILL MANSION [online]. averyhillpark.org.uk. Available from https://www.averyhillpark.org.uk/avery-hill-mansion.html [Accessed 15 February 2022].
Grundberg, A. (2021) How photography became contemporary art. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.
Jungen, L. (2016) To publish or not to publish — When pictures make headlines [online]. medium.com. Available from https://medium.com/inside-the-news-media/to-publish-or-not-to-publish-when-pictures-make-headlines-98183a15c64 [Accessed 14 February 2022].
Merriam-Webster (n.d.) swarm noun [online]. merriam-webster.com. Available from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/swarm [Accessed 14 February 2022].
Paperboy (2015) UK Newspaper Front Pages for Thursday, 3 September 2015 [online]. thepaperboy.com. Available from https://www.thepaperboy.com/uk/2015/09/03/front-pages-archive.cfm [Accessed 14 February 2022].
Press Association (2015) Alan Kurdi image appeared on 20m screens in just 12 hours [online]. theguardian.com. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/dec/15/alan-kurdi-image-appeared-on-20m-screens-in-just-12-hours?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other [Accessed 14 February 2022].
Reid, A. (2019) Buses and Breaking Point: Freedom of Expression and the ‘Brexit’Campaign [online]. researchgate.net. Available from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333471772_Buses_and_Breaking_Point_Freedom_of_Expression_and_the_’Brexit’_Campaign [Accessed 14 February 2022].
Renkl, M. (2020) When a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Tears [online]. nytimes.com. Available from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/17/opinion/photojournalism-children-nick-ut.html [Accessed 15 February 2022].
Shelter Projects (2018) FRANCE 2015–2016 / REFUGEE CRISIS [online]. shelterprojects.org. Available from https://www.shelterprojects.org/shelterprojects2017-2018/SP17-18_A25-France-2015-2016.pdf [Accessed 14 February 2022].
Sutherland, R. (2022) Seeing is believing. The Spectator. Vol. 348; no. 10,093, p.61.
Sykes, O. (2018) Post-geography worlds, new dominions, left behind regions, and ‘other’ places: unpacking some spatial imaginaries of the UK’s ‘Brexit’ debate [online]. researchgate.net. Available from https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Breaking-point-UKIP-Poster-Source-United-Kingdom-Independence-Party-2016_fig3_328941178 [Accessed 14 February 2022].