We all know that images are a really powerful communication tool that can easily influence people’s opinion, but do we really understand how powerful this tool is?
We are constantly bombarded by all sorts of images; sleek advertisements, news, social networks. Our everyday life sees a constant exposure to images.
An image can give, at a first glance, more information than any other communication tool.
When flipping through a magazine there are the pictures that suggest to you what the article content is and it’s through them that you make your first selection. If you see a picture of a plate of pasta for example, you know that the article is going to be food related. If you see a kiss between two celebrities you know that it is going to be about gossip. Only at the second step do you read the title to get the extra information to decide if the subject is worth your time.
The same happens when you scroll through your facebook page or other social media: it is the image of that person doing that thing that captures your attention and makes you want to see more and know more about that.
In some cases the process is the opposite so listening to some information doesn’t feel like it’s enough. You need an image to complete the information and fully understand. Reading the description of the new pair of Jimmy Choo, the latest coat from Zara or of an exotic location would feel incomplete without the help on an image.
In many cases the picture is actually the only thing that you need: a beautiful piece of jewelry doesn’t need much more than a picture and the name of the brand to be promoted. That’s why pictures are a very powerful advertising tool; they communicate something immediately.
We all know that this tool can be deviant and provide false information: photoshop can create everything you wish. The model in the picture can look 3 sizes thinner, the jewelry more sparkling, the sand whiter; you can even pretend to be in a place where you are not.
Obtaining those kind of false advertisements require a certain amount of effort but there is another form of “cheating” that is much easier to obtain: showing just what I want.
I can pretend to have a fabulous posh life on my media showing just pictures of expensive accessories and parties or show just the face of a model. In general I can decide to manipulate the spectator giving him a partial truth.
If a brand new card has a damaged side, I can show just the good one; if at one end of the beach there is a pile of garbage, I can show just the other end. In any situation or object there must be at least one good detail and I can decide to show just that. The same the other way around: I can decide to discredit someone or something showing just the bad and scaring people away, like the media loves to do.
I have been writing all this reflection because I realize that this cheating process is so easy, that I have been cheated by myself.
Let me explain.
I was trying to organize my thoughts about Melaka, the historical town on the South West of Malaysia. In doing so I was looking through my pictures and I realized that the place shown in the images wasn’t the one of my memories.
When visiting Melaka I was looking for inspiration for a weekly photo challenge, entitled ‘Abandoned’ and as a result my pictures show Melaka as a ghost town. Instead of the Chinese temples and the vibrant colors of the market there are abandoned houses, chairs, rubbish, and half demolished buildings. It is true that those things are there and are actually a big part of the town (right time at tight place for my challenge) but Melaka is most certainly not all about that. Looking at those pictures I would never go back to Melaka, but having been there I know that there is much more than that!
The city was founded in the 14th century by the Hindu, then the Chinese took control, then the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the the British in 1795 until its independence. This means that the city has a massive mish and mash of cultures and architectures: the chinese temples, the Dutch mill, the Christian church, the mosque, the Portuguese fortress, the river landscape. Where is all of that? Not in my pictures.
Most of the time a picture can’t be 100% objective, there is always a person behind that lens with a personal point of view and a personal perception of the surrounding, which is what makes some pictures unique. From an artistic point of view, this is what makes a great picture. But in a world where most of the information that we get is given by images, how easily and how often do we get intentionally cheated by them?