Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Power of Images

I just saw this ads of Windows 8 during lunch time which introduced its new function of "picture password". It's interesting to think about it: We can use images as passwords now! What else can we do with images?

On Tuesday's class, professor Retzinger showed many photos, some of which are considered of great importance in the history. I want to talk a little about the following picture.

I wrote a paper about this photo last semester, which was the final essay for the course "visual communication" in my home university. This photo is well known for it, to some extent, changed American's attitude to Vietnam War, thus, changed the history. The photo won the Pulitzer Prize for the photographer Eddie Adams. However, Eddie Adams disliked, even hated this photo, according to his son, though it was this photo that brought his fame and wealth. 

The photo shows the moment when a police chief General shot a Viet Cong.  However, many facts are left out by this picture. The communist being shot dead in the photo was a murderer who just killed a soldier and his whole family - his wife and six children. But in the picture, the General was the murder, while the Viet Cong was the victim . This photo made the General suffered throughout the rest of his life. For the photo is so well known, the General was called "killer" wherever he went. 

The photographer once wrote: The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. ... What the photograph didn't say was, "What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?"("There Are Tears in My Eyes - Eddie Adams & the Most Famous Photo of the Vietnam War", by Jonah Goldberg 1999)

With this example, I want to illustrate that images do have power, but such power not always leads us to the right direction. As argued by DeLuca and Peeples, the TV screen has been recognized as "the contemporary shape of the public sphere" and "the image event designed for mass media dissemination as an important contemporary form of citizen participation".(126) However, the opinion, and sometimes even the action, based on the images shown on public screen can be wrong. Here is a picture well illustrates such possibility.

So in the time of "Public Screen", it's vital for us to think twice about whatever we see on screens. Sometimes, seeing is not believing. Without such awareness, our good will to improve the situation may lead to negative result.


  1. Thank you for deepening our understanding of that particular photo from lecture, Jessie. And it is funny that you bring up the new Windows 8 picture passwords, since I was just talking about those with someone and wondering whether it would be much easier to "shoulder surf" and steal someone else's password now that it is more visual.

  2. Jessie, I liked your point about the discrepancy between real life and life as portrayed via media/images. In relation to this, the first example I thought was reality television. Here is a clip of the final scene of The Hills finale: The Hills was a reality television show depicting the lives of Lauren Conrad (of reality television show Laguna Beach fame) and friends in Los Angeles. Although I never really followed The Hills, I remember the uproar the finale caused among some of my high school friends. People wondered if the show was staged or real, or a combination of both. If people can be easily tricked into believing that "reality" television is generally "real," I wonder how many people take news on "trusted" networks at face value, without critical engagement. For example, if a person were only to watch news via Fox, their views would be skewed heavily to the right-wing. The bias of Fox news reminds me that even news needs to be read with a critical eye.In the same way, media images should also be evaluated critically.