Why Photography is So Important in 2017

We’ve all seen photos from the media recently; we cringed at Farage’s giddiness from standing next to Trump, we were appalled by photos of child refugees, we were encouraged by the size of the crowds at the women’s marches.

But honestly, we wouldn’t know the half of what was happening around the world if it weren’t for the photographers and journalists who click the button. It’s a lot easier to believe something when a picture is put in front of you, a picture that documented the event without extreme bias or lack of context. Photography is critical, in this mad political age, to remind people of things that they themselves can’t see happening – it acts as a tap on the shoulder to those who were ready to turn their backs. It refuses the excuse of ignorance.

Which is why, for once, social media is essential; it helps as many people as possible to see what needs to be seen, and understand what needs to be understood. The rate at which a photo can go viral is mind-blowing – unfortunately more often than not it’s of a funny-looking cat or someone being ridiculously #relatable. But, due to the growing concern of the general public, recently more and more photos documenting politics and world events have been sliding into my news feeds.

Apart from being endlessly more interesting than memes, it’s strangely reassuring to see that enough people are either being told or speaking out about things they don’t agree with. The evidence of the terrible things that are happening are being shoved into our faces, and as awful as they can be it’s important that we see them. We can’t sit in our little bubbles and pretend that, because these things aren’t happening in our hometowns, they’re not happening at all. We can’t deny the truth when it’s creeping up on us, on website after website.

The only risk, of course, is that Photoshop exists – and can be very convincing. Stalin was using image manipulation as early as 1939 to censor Russian media to pretend that important officers had never been a part of his regime, after for various reasons they were deemed traitors. Photoshop tricks aren’t secrets; every time we pick up a Vogue or a Cosmopolitan the models are victims of airbrushing and touch-ups. We’ve come to ignore white lies like those in magazines, but we must not become blind to ‘the lie [that] passed into history and became truth’, as Orwell put it.

If Trump says his inauguration drew the biggest crowd and we have proof that that is not true, we must not believe him. If Le Pen denies the Holocaust and we have countless photos, films and documents to prove otherwise, we must not believe him. Photography, in these situations, is concrete; language is ambiguous and can always be contested for bias or semantic miscalculation, but the camera does not lie like people do. Yes, it can be misleading, but it can’t straight up lie – we’ll leave that to the politicians and the tabloids.

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