A single shocking
photograph can sway public opinion like nothing else. During the
Vietnam war, a handful of photographic images were indelibly etched
into Americans’ collective imagination. There was a shocking
photograph of a Buddhist monk calmly burning himself to death
to protest the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government. There
was an image of a nine-year-old girl, running naked and screaming
in pain after a fiery napalm attack on her village. Another photograph
showed a stiff-armed South Vietnamese police chief about to shoot
a bound Viet Cong prisoner in the head.
the wake of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, we are aware more
than ever of the power of photographs. Photographs have the power
to freeze time and to evoke emotions even more powerfully than
are not simply mirrors of reality. They are documents that need
to be read and interpreted. Many people assume that a snapshot
is an accurate, totally objective copy of a moment in time. This
view is wrong. A photograph is a selective recording and interpretation
of a visual scene. Understanding the degree of photographic manipulation
is necessary to evaluate any particular image. Photographs do
not lie, but the truths they communicate are elusive.
our history, Americans have been deeply uneasy about visual images.
Our Puritan ancestors had a taboo about graven images, icons,
and mirrors. Before the end of the 18th century, there were very
few paintings, drawings, or visual images in America. Ours was
a cultural of words, not of images.
of photography in the mid-19th century made images an integral
part of American life. Today, it is more important than ever to
develop visual literacy and understand how to “read”
Brief History of Photography