‘A picture speaks a thousand words’ is a very famous saying in photography. It is like if you don’t know this, you don’t know photography. Most of the talks/discussion about photography starts with this saying. But does a picture really speak a thousand words?
Yesterday most of my photographer friends talked and news feed in my facebook had the above picture (the first one). It shows a girl helping a man in the wheel chair in an inundated place. It is a picture everyone instantly likes.
Personally I see three things in the picture. A man in the wheelchair, a girl helping the man and the place flooded with water. The first two things instantly connect us with the photo emotionally. The water is something every person living in Kathmandu can relate with their every day suffering.
What actually happened?
After talking to both photographers, I knew that they were assigned to cover a protest for their newspapers.. But due to heavy rain, both of them got stuck. The place got inundated and they both started to take pictures of people in the rain from the place where they were. At that time, came the man in wheel chair. He got stuck and the girl was passing by next to him and she tried to help him. But the man refused her help so she left. Both photographers took the picture from two different places, of the same thing at almost same time.
Most of the people who look at the first photo feel sad. A girl is helping a man with disability and the condition of the city makes us feel sad. But, what if I say a drunken man in the wheel chair refuses the help? May be now we don’t feel as sad as we felt for the first time.
Yes, the drunken man. One of the photographers and some other who lives near the place told me that the man in the wheel chair is often found drunk. And if we see the second picture, the place does not look as flooded as it looks in the first picture. So, do photographs speak enough to tell the truth? Did the photograph tell the man is drunk?
The power of photographs.
I am not writing this blog about the photo. I am writing about a lot of things these photos and the situation has made me think about.
What is the biggest power of a photograph? This does not have one particular answer. Every one has their own answer based on their personal experience, views, their background etc. And I think, the biggest power of photograph is one single photo can manipulate thought and emotion of a lot people. Yes, photo can do that. We have seen a lot of pictures used carefully to make good or bad impression of something.
A lot of controlled and staged photographs are taken and published specially in political scenario. When I say this, I remember pictures of Barack Obama. All of the photos published of him showed he was and amazing person. Always smiling, playful, friendly. Those pictures made us think how good person he was. But I never saw a single picture of him being angry. Wasn’t there a moment in 8 years of him being a president when he was angry?
When official statement came out regarding the royal massacre that said Prince Dipendra killed his family, I only saw a picture of prince where he had beard and looked grumpy. That picture somehow convinces that this man looks angry and he can kill. Isn’t that manipulation of thought?
Now this raises an important question. Do pictures lie? No, pictures itself do not lie. But how and in what context it is presented makes a huge difference.
A photo of Bibi Aisha by photographer Jodi Biebier was one of the most talked photos of the year 2010. The photo was on the cover of TIME magazine. And the photo was also linked with propaganda and had some controversies. It was mostly not because of the photo itself but the text that was with the photo: ‘What happens if we leave Afghanistan’. This text made it political.
So, a photo takes a new journey when it goes to the mass. Everyone can interpret it in their own way. Coming back to the first photo. I read few comments on the photo shared on the facebook. Most people congratulated the photographer and said great photo. Some applauded the girl for helping the man. Some even raised the doubt if it was posed. And what we should understand here is just like every viewer has their own view, every photographer also has their own views and way of expression. And that is very well reflected on their photographs.
And as I said earlier, a photograph has power to manipulate thought of people, it is up to the photographer to be responsible while they shoot. What they shoot and how they shoot. It’s a photographer’s decision to include or exclude something in the photo and it’s photographer’s decision to click when they feel right. And these can make big difference.
Coming back to a picture speaking a thousand words, it is just an idea that one single picture can say many things. I personally think that, one single picture can say one thing like love, anger, sadness, happiness. And that one single word is powerful enough. Also a picture does not have to speak all the time. Can’t it raise a question?
So, for me, my photographs are my interpretation of what I feel and what I see rather than what is in front of me.