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After reading Pensiero’s “Photos That Changed History” (published in the text; an excerpt is also below), write an AT LEAST FIVE PARAGRAPH reflection essay (first-person or third-person POV): Which has the greatest impact on a reader: a video, a photograph or still photo, or a selection of text? Combination?
You MUST address:
1-Consider why Ken Burns expresses concerns that still photos may have been “devalued”.
2-Why did Eisenhower send film crews to Nazi concentration camps?
3-Why did Brinkley say that photos of violence in 1963, Birmingham, change the laws and a system of bigotry?
Excerpt of KAREN MILLER PENSIERO “Photos That Change History”
Karen Miller Pensiero (b. 1963) is the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. She has held several different positions at that publication since 1985, including serving as money and markets editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe, director of corporate communications, and editor for newsroom standards. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
For years, the news media have published photos of Syrian refugees: images of the dead, wounded and displaced. But few of them seem to have made much of an impression-until last week, * when people around the world saw photos of a 3-year-old boy named Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body had washed up on a Turkish beach.
“Once in a while, an image breaks through the noisy, cluttered global culture and hits people in the heart and not the head,” says Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University.
The boy had drowned, along with his brother and mother, while trying to get from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos. The Wall Street Journal published an image of a Turkish officer carrying Aylan’s dead body, with the boy’s face not quite visible and the man looking away, as if not able to bring himself to look at the child.
Other news organizations published an even more stark photo of the dead little boy, face down in the surf.
Asked last week about this sudden shift in the migration debate, the documentary filmmaker and historian Ken Burns admitted that he once worried that the still image had been devalued, “that a picture was no longer worth a thousand words because there were so many of them.”
The photos of Aylan Kurdi are a reminder, he says, that the power of the single image to convey complex information is still there. It has that power to shock and arrest us. To make us stop for just a second and interrupt the flow.”
Though the issues have varied greatly over the decades, historians point to other eras when photographs have resonated in the same transformative way, creating new social awareness and spurring changes in policy.
One iconic instance is “Migrant Mother,” shot by Dorothea Lange in 1936 as part of her work for the federal government’s Resettlement Administration.
The picture of a woman and her children in a camp in the Central Valley of California vividly captured the plight of American migrants affected by the Great Depression, widespread drought, and the Dust Bowl.
“The photos were part of a government effort to shape and support the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt,” says Joshua Brown, a professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Martha A. Sandweiss, a professor of history at Princeton University, recalls a conversation she once had with Willard Van Dyke, a distinguished documentary filmmaker who, late in life, returned to his roots in photography.
She asked him why, and he said, “Migrant Mother. ‘No film ever changed as many minds or touched as many people as that photograph did.”
As World War II drew to a close, Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the commanding general of Allied forces in Western Europe, sent film crews co Nazi concentration camps. He believed, according to Prof. Brinkley, that “people will deny what’s happening if you don’t have photographic evidence of everything.”
Before the release of the photos to the public, “people heard about the tragedy of the Holocaust, and they heard statistics about it,” Prof. Brinkley says, “but suddenly to see the degradation of human life to such a degree just sort of turned the whole world’s head around. In many ways, it led to the creation of Israel.”
Photography was also crucial in highlighting the injustice of Jim Crow in the South and publicizing the efforts of the civil rights movement.
“It all comes together with that photograph” of Aylan Kurdi, he says, “and that happens sometimes. It’s still a rare moment, but it’s something like the barking mad dogs of Bull Connor’s Birmingham,” referring to the white supremacist public safety commissioner who encouraged violence against peaceful protesters.
“The fire hoses had the same galvanizing effect,” Prof. Brinkley says. “Once people saw those photos, they were repulsed by the Southern Jim Crow bigot system.”
Prof. Brown says that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a key group in the civil rights movement, so valued the effect of photos that it had its own photographer. “There is no doubt,” he says, “that the photographs of attacks on demonstrators played an important role in changing opinions.”
Though many of history’s most influential photos show the harsh reality of suffering or conflict, that’s not the only way for images to make an impact.
A 17-year-old civil rights demonstrator is attacked by a police dog, May 3, 1963, in Birmingham, Ala.
President John F. Kennedy discussed this widely seen photo at a White House meeting the next afternoon. “Once people saw those photos,” says Prof. Brinkley “they were repulsed by the Southern Jim Crow bigot system.”
Mr. Burns describes such photographs as “symbols of a moment.”
They have the power to transform the agonizingly slow conversation of politics and diplomacy to a kind of urgency that actually permits us as human beings to transcend the limitations.
Still photographs are “the DNA of our visual experience. visual experience,” says Mr. Bums. “We are brought together by them.”