The Power of The Image

The power of the image: the impact of the press image in wars and revolutions Photography has been known to play a significant role in different spheres of life. According to Stabbabrass (2003), the purpose of photography is to provoke a response among the viewers, which is attained through revealing hardships and the sufferings people undergo and as such inducing viewers to act to remedy the displayed events. Photographs of agony are known to be more effective in generating response among viewers in that the moment of others suffering engulf the viewer to the extent that the viewer gets compassionate (Stabbabrass 2003). As a result, the viewer shares in the suffering of the people in the photograph and as such provoked to take action. However, the kind of photography that galvanized the anti-war movement around the world at the time of Vietnam seems to have lost its power: this implies that literature contains controversial evidence on the power of image. This essay will review such literature and discuss the impact of press images in wars and revolutions. This will help establish the extent to which images are powerful. Just like other tools used by people, the media has been established to serve good and evil purposes. According to Schwalbe, Silcock and Keith (2008), independent, free, and objective media is effective in making people think, reflect, and meet in an atmosphere of openness, which helps promote understanding and peace. On the other hand, media may serve evil when it is used to manipulate the truth and diminish or exaggerate facts, which is mainly attained through the support of political and military power (Strauss 2003). In the latter case, media becomes a weapon of war and a threat to freedom. For example, during World War II, the media would not reveal the truth and in some instances, horrifying images were shared, which propagated war. Fahmy and Kim (2011) write that the media is active in giving a minute to minute report from battle scenes but they remain silent once war is over and the road to peace begins. Given the


nature of war aftermath, a peace agreement plays a significant role in promoting peace, which implies that if the media does not capture such images, the two rivals and the supporters remain provoked, which becomes a threat to peace and freedom (Schwalbe, Silcock and Keith 2008). Stallabrass (2013) states that the current media has become an instrument of war rather than an instrument of peace as the media is highly controlled by military commanders and as such they have a great influence over the images to be published in the media. However, Fahmy and Kim (2011) write that after the press controllers recommend the images to be published, reporters have the right to bring their own perceptions about the images. Given that all the published images must be captioned, viewers share in the opinions of the reporters and the publishers, which has a significant influence in wars and revolutions. Unlike during the World War II, members of the media today have more freedom and are not fully controlled by the military forces and as a result have proved fiercer (Strauss 2003). This implies that today, the media is able to publish more images on wars and revolutions than in the past, which gives the viewers a clearer picture of the situation in the battle scenes. As a result, viewers are able to share in the feelings and sufferings of people in war, which raises an urge to support the suffering out of the situation. In most cases, the viewers tend to revenge for their favorites, which intensifies war while threatening the freedom of the rivals in other parts of the world as well as in the battle field. Fahmy and Kim (2008) posit that since the end of Cold War, conflict is a defining characteristic of the modern society where millions of people die and others continue suffering after displacement. The media has remained active in capturing these deaths and sufferings and associating them with wars and revolutions, which has further intensifies conflicts among

societies. This is so because if one society sees its members suffering in displacement and others killed, it tends to revenge by attacking the people that have displaced its own. As such, press images can be associated with increased conflicts and wars. The impact of war images is profound if somewhat perverse than expected (Khalil 2011). The result is that viewers do not have an effective action to take to alleviate the suffering imposed on the victims as well as the suffering they undergo as they as they view the images. This means that war suffering is past any possible remedy no matter how distressing the images could be to the audience. However, the authors also acknowledge that photographs of war and revolutions tend to awaken concern but can also induce hopelessness if the situation seems way out of control as the viewer may feel inadequate to help those in pain and suffering. Therefore, press images may promote conflicts if the viewers feel concerned and capable of helping the people in suffering. Additionally, press images may have no effect on war and revolutions especially if the viewers feel inadequate to help those in suffering. Fahmy and Kim (2008) state that the effect of press images on war is dependent on the extent to which the viewers see and understand the image. In this case, the writers argue that those who view images of suffering may not see some things such as the political influence behind the actions. However, viewers that see everything in an image of suffering are more likely to have a deeper understanding of the image as well as the factors that may have contributed to the suffering, which provokes the desire to revenge. For example, if the images suggests that government is involved in the suffering, the war is likely to be politicalized, which propagates war in revenge. This implies that the effect of being exposed to a press image on wars has effect on wars and revolutions based on the extent to which the viewer understands and sees the image.

Thus, clearer images and simple captions and much more likely to provoke emotions and actions in viewers as compared to unclear and uncaptioned images. According to Khalil (2011), photography and press images are likely to invoke two types of response among the viewers: first, the viewer can compassionately shed tears and then then commit to seeking justice for them in suffering and second, the viewer can adopt a cynical distance from any images of suffering. The former viewer is more likely to engage in conflict with the perceived source of the war or support humanitarian movements to help bring the war to an end. Still, the active viewers may mobilize politically in hopes of reuniting the parties in war, which helps bring peace. From this perspective, press images may considerably contribute to peace and reconciliation. In criticism of the role of press images in promoting peace, Fahmy and Kim (2008) write that compassion after viewing the images is the weakest possible idea that would empower the viewers to be engaged in bringing peace. Thus, compassion is seen as an inauspicious basis for political action thus incapable for restoring peace. Instead, the authors argue that viewers who feel devastated by the images are more likely to take action as opposed to those who feel compassionate. The former are more likely to provoke the governance into supporting the oppressed find peace, which promotes peace.

Khalil (2011) write that press images may not have a significant influence on wars and revolutions in that the viewers may possibly blame the photographer who produces the image for subjecting them to pain and as such ignoring the pain of them in suffering. From this perspective, viewers of press images are more likely to see the distress the images bring them rather that the distress the war victims experience, which makes to contribution to peace and reconciliations. Thus, the rivals continue fighting since there is no parties interested in bring peace. Therefore, the authors argue that for press images to promote peace and freedom, the photographers must report the scenes in a way that provokes viewers into political and reconciliation efforts.

Schwalbe, Silcock and Keith (2008) analyze the role of images shared social media in wars and note that security has never been among the internet’s strong sides, which has contributed to severity of wars. This is so because today, victims of war among other persons can share their experiences of social media, which can be easily accessed by all. Unlike in the traditional media where censorship played an effective role in filtering what gets to the audience, social media has no security and as a result viewers are exposed to all kinds of images. This plays a very significant role in promoting wars and revolutions and people and governments tend to take parts and support the oppressed in revenging and findings justice, which is not fairly sought. On the other hand, Griffin (2004) states that social media is the main tool connecting people all over the world and therefore images shared over the social media reaches a mass population unlike images shared via other media. As such, if war images are shared on social media sites, the whole world gains access to the images, which provokes various actions and the result is humanitarian organizations and governments taking actions to help reconcile the victims. However, the images shared on social media may provoke viewers into taking actions if humanitarian organizations and governments do not bother, which propagates enmity and war.

According to Strauss (2008), photographs and images embed themselves deeper into the human mind more than word and as such are able to trigger stronger emotions than text and verbal messages. From this perspective, images and photographs have the ability to considerably affect wars and revolutions since people believe what they see more than what they hear. Press images are able to capture more attention and they create the impression of experiencing the presented event at first hand. As a result, viewers are able to process the information better as compared to information presented through other means. Thus, information obtained from images and photographs become intrinsic and keep bothering the viewers until a solution is found. This implies that press images have the power to keep viewers restless until a solution to war is found. In this case, the viewers are more likely to be peace advocates.

From the perspective of a cognitive psychologist, Schwalbe, Silcock and Keith (2008) write that visual images are easily internalized into viewers’ memory and as a result are more remembered than words. This implies that images of war and human suffering have a long lasting impact on viewers, which encourages them to do anything possible to avoid wars in the future. Therefore, press images may not have an immediate impact on wars and images but have a positive impact in future in that the experienced suffering remains fresh in the mind. This is associated with the ability of photographs and images to help viewers memorize and recall past experiences.

Images of war considerably sway public perceptions and attitudes, which helps reinforce or erode public support for war policy and as a result, governments work consistently to control, limits, and delay image production and circulation during wars (Griffin 2004). These efforts help in shielding the society from particular images while promoting distribution of other images, which helps create a perception of the battle scene and preventing the audience from taking negative actions. This implies that in most cases, the content of press images is not a transparent recording of the situation on the ground. Additionally, images of war do not frequently appear for public appraisal, which implies the society may not take any actions against wars and revolutions in that they are not exposed to the real battle (Khalil 2011).

Fahmy and Kim (2008) states that every war or revolution involves a competing propaganda and no image remains separated from such conspiracies and therefore, the public must fully analyze the conditions under which the image is produced and distributed before taking any action. This implies that press images may not have significant power in influencing wars and revolutions. Additionally, images of war do not have inherent attraction and most viewers tend to change channels and peruse pages when images of war appear (Strauss 2008). This is influenced by the fact that images of war offer viscerally exciting glimpse to violence thus avoided by many viewers. In addition, photographs originating from battle fields offer glimpses of life-threatening conditions and events, which are not exciting to many viewers. As a result, only a few people pay attention to war images, which limits the power of the society in taking action against wars and revolutions.

After World War II, war and photography became inseparable and as a result, governments and political leaders became determined to control the use of media in distributing war images (). The media became highly censored, which significantly lowered public commitment to the war effort. This implies that despite war images circulating in the media, the public is less likely to pay attention or take any action since the images are not a true representation of the war but a filtered and reproduced story. According to Schwalbe, Silcock and Keith (2008), most media houses share images that invoke the patriotic duty and national unity during wars, which helps keep the public calm. For example, instead of distributing an image of people being shot in battle fields, a media house may circulate an image of a military officer helping a child, which encourages the public to be patriotic. This has been effective at controlling wars in that censorship helps prevent the public from revenging, which promotes peace and reconciliation.

Griffin (2004) writes that press images can significantly promote war if the public and private media are not united such that one media circulates censored images while the other distributes images of war as situation is on the ground. This is described as unity of purpose, which helps ensure the audience views images of the same genre thus eliminating the possibility of using images to insight wars and revolutions. In such cases, the private media has a say in what images reach the audience but this is subject to approval of the office of censorship (). As a result, both the private and public media are involved in promoting peace through displaying images flagwave patriotism. This implies that if effectively censored, press images can help promote peace and freedom.

Khalil (2011) writes that war images can be effective in preventing future wars as they are memorable and striking, which gives them the capacity to leave a lasting relevance among the viewers. In this case, the authors argue that images of war should be captured as the situation on the ground is to make sure that those who view them revere being in such a situation. If this is attained, the authors state that countries would be able to realize peace as they seek to avoid the consequences of war. However, such images can only be effective at serving this purpose if they are not circulated at the time of war.

Strauss (2008) suggests that images and photographs become iconic and broadly symbolic when they are widely circulated and reissued in various contexts: only then they become significant to the viewers. Thus, the relationship between photographs and history can only be created over time and only after this relationship is established images can have an effect of wars and revolutions. This is so because if an audience is exposed to an image over a long time, the image tends to alter the cultural system, which significantly affects the type of response the viewers will give. Therefore, we can argue that press images cannot be effective at influencing wars and revolutions unless they are circulated over a long period of time.

Griffin (2004) holds that photography is the most dramatic and emotionally powerful consequence of war. This implies that the survivors of war live to remember the experience of war, which insight them to revenge by starting another war. Therefore, press war images can be associated with e role of promoting wars and revolutions as they keep reminding survivors of the experience and as such invoking them to revenge. In the same vein, Schwalbe, Silcock and Keith (2008) write that war images serve as a permanent reminder of the war experiences, which motivates the survivors to wage war against the offenders. Therefore, there is need for censorship to ensure the public only has access to images that urge them to embrace patriotism such that they can encourage survivors of war to forgive their offenders and pursue national unity.

Therefore, we can conclude that press images has an active role in promoting wars and revolutions and a significant role in promoting peace and freedom. The supporters of war photography argue that the images serve as a lesson to future generations, which help combat future conflicts. Additionally, supporters of war photography hold that war images helps the viewers see the need for peace by showing the suffering and consequences of war. Further, the supporters of war photography hold the press images evoke compassion among the viewers, which urges them to join humanitarian organizations seeking to end the war. On the other hand, war photography has been criticized for propagating war in that viewers feel the need to revenge. Additionally, viewers feel obliged to fight back in support of their favorite party, which propagates war. Finally, war photography promotes war in that the survivors forever remember the experience, which makes them hold anger against the rival. The enmity finally results to conflicts and the end result might be war.

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  • Fahmy, S. and Kim, D., 2008. Picturing the Iraq War: Constructing the image of war in the British and US press. International Communication Gazette, 70(6), pp.443-462.
  • Griffin, M., 2004. Picturing America’s ‘War on Terrorism’in Afghanistan and Iraq: Photographic motifs as news frames. Journalism, 5(4), pp.381-402.
  • Khalil, K. ed., 2011. Messages from Tahrir: signs from Egypt's revolution. American University in Cairo Press.
  • Schwalbe, C.B., Silcock, B.W. and Keith, S., 2008. Visual framing of the early weeks of the US-led invasion of Iraq: Applying the master war narrative to electronic and print images. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 52(3), pp.448-465.
  • Stabbabrass, J. 2003. The power and Impotence of images. [Online] Available at pdf [Accessed 17 October 2018].
  • Stallabrass, J., 2013. Memory of fire: Images of war and the war of images. Photoworks.
  • Strauss, D.L., 2003. Between the eyes: Essays on photography and politics. Aperture.

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