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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – Can Photographs Change the World?

“If you want the people to understand you, invite them to your life and let them see the world from your window!”

― Mehmet Murat ildan

Since its evolution, photography has been making an impact on the world.  It has changed our perception of the world.  We better understand what the world looks like outside of our own borders.  We are exposed to a wider view of the world than before the medium was developed.

In 1976, Stanley J. Forman’s Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a haunting image of a woman and child falling after a fire escape collapsed caused controversy and debate after the Boston Herald published it. The newspaper was criticised for publishing such a horrific picture.  However, the photograph prompted many to check their fire escapes and a law was passed that ensured that the building owners were responsibility for the maintenance of fire escapes.  Thousands of other lives have probably been saved because of this image and the changes it brought about.


Figure 1: Stanley Forman Fire Escape Collapse 1975.

Since then we have been exposed to many similar images.  Have any had the same impact that this image did? Are we now immune to effect these images have on us?  These images have raised awareness and informed us of disasters and the loss of human life, but they have not changed things.

Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.

– Arthur Brisbane

Today we live in a visual world.  Often we need to see things to believe them.  It is the age of viral news media and a great many images are viewed around the world via the internet and especially. People are more likely moved by photographs than by reading news stories.

We can view these images and feel empathy or horror at what we see, but the images we view today do not really bring about change.  I believe that people are now just too desensitised to shocking images.  What seems to be a powerful image has lost the ability to shock, motivate, or inspire us.  We are informed by the images and they highlight issues to us.  When we view images of disasters and suffering around the world, we might contribute to collections for the charities, but then go on with our own lives.  These images appear so many times, that we become immune to their impact.

What photography might change is our perception of a situation.  Will it change the situation and stop it happening?  As much as I would like it to, I don’t think so.


ildan, M. M. From Quotes About Understanding Others (102 quotes) . 2017. Quotes About Understanding Others (102 quotes) . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 18 March 2017].

Figure 1: Forman, S. From Rare Historical Photos. 2017. A mother and her daughter falling from a fire escape, 1975. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 18 March 2017].

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