It isn’t often that we see something that fundamentally changes the way that we see the world. Some experience these moments more than others. It takes a highly powerful image with a potent message to bring about a life altering experience when viewing it. This situation can either be organic or manufactured, but the outcome resonates within the people it changes. Pictures are POWERFUL.
Taslima Akhter, who is credited for the above photo, puts together projects portraying the struggles that relate to gender and inequality particularly in the garment industry of Bangladesh. Her images are intense and propel her narrative forward in a way the sticks in the minds of us viewers.
It is simple to remove yourself from stories you hear or read about. Hearsay does not impact our lives on a very significant level unless we are directly affected by what we are learning. Photos and videos have a unique property in that they submerge the viewer into a new world. Our being able to see something in front of us brings a reality to it. Horror movies scare us because we empathize with the characters in it. It is easier to place ourselves there in the moment when we are seeing, hearing, and therefor feeling or living the experience.
This principle of using imagery to elicit an internal change goes far beyond the superficial horror-thriller with a twist at the end. Granted it is entertaining to enjoy these types of productions, but there is far more potential than jump scares. As an American, I enjoy a vastly luxurious life which I take for granted. It is difficult for citizens of our flourishing country to relate to those in environments of less fortunate circumstances. Images from around the world has helped me understand who I am and how I live relative to my counterparts in other countries, with less opportunity, and amidst tragic war and poverty.
Sometimes we see things we wish we can un-see, but we can’t. No matter what, we can’t shake that image out of our heads. This picture taken by Nilüfer Demir of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee, sent shock waves throughout the world for this very reason. We can’t un-see it. We can’t take it back. We are completely helpless and have to deal with our emotions on our own. This causes us to take an introspective look at ourselves to rectify our gut wrench by whatever means we find necessary.
Powerful images are a double edged sword. They can make us feel good, like we’re where we want to be and everything will be OK. Or, they can make us question our existence and what we are doing with it. Nilüfer Demir’s photo changed my perception of the world and how I interact with it. It put me in the shoes of immigrants, refugees, volunteers, and families who have had to witness these tragedies first hand. Next time you’re frustrated at the Starbucks line, consider how some of earth’s citizens are forced to survive. Reflect on humanity’s shame in Demir’s photo, and what changes about yourself or the way you feel because of it.