Photography as a Tool of Change

Once again photography proves itself to be one of the most powerful tools to express a decisive moment  in our history. With the click of a shutter, Jonathan Bachman’s photo, taken during a recent Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, says more in one image than a 2,000 word article. Bachman’s photo has become an iconic document on and about our society.

Jonathan Bachman Baton Rouge

Photo by Jonathan Bachman

Another photograph that struck our collective conscience was taken in 1965 during the  Vietnam War. It was a pivotal time in America’s history and my own. The iconic photo below shows one protestor placing a flower inside a National Guardsman’s rifle barrel. In this one image we see the divisiveness of the times and a small plea for peace.


Photo: Washington Post/Getty Images

The 1989 student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was an attempt for Democratic reform in China. The movement failed when the Chinese government unleased it’s military including tanks against its own people. Out of it came Charles Cole’s historic photograph of a lone man standing defiantly in front of Chinese tanks.  The photograph made the front pages of just about every newspaper of the day. The man’s identity and his fate have never been fully known. The link below will connect you to a documentary called “The Tank Man.” It’s about what happened to the man in the photo and how China has erased this period from its history books.


        Photo by Charles Cole.

Photography has documented historic moments for a long time. Photographers like Lewis Hine and W. Eugene Smith spent their lives recording and exposing injustice. Hine was best known for his powerful works of social reform particularly focusing on child labor.


Photo by Lewis Hine.

W. Eugene Smith is remembered for his   powerful photo-essay called Minamata. A shocking look at a small Japanese fishing village whose residents  were severely poisoned and suffered from physical disfigurement due to mercury poisoning from a nearby chemical company. During his time  investigating and photographing, Smith was severely beaten by goons hired by the chemical company.


    Photo by W. Eugene Smith

Photography as a powerful tool of change and recording important moments in life goes back to almost the beginning of the art. Matthew Brady is known best at a recorder of the Civil War and as President Lincoln’s photographer. Brady’s images of the battlefield brought home the horror and despair of the most expensive war  in human cost.

matthew_brady_photo    Photo by Matthew Brady


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