The Power of an Image


Do you ‘feel’ the power……

In the world of painting we have Picasso, Rembrandt or Jackson Pollack. In music we have Beethoven, Mozart or Bono. In literature, Shakespeare, Dickens or Melville. But in TV, whom do we have? Katie Couric?

What happened?

Television is primarily a visually creative art form, but the best thing we can think to make with it, despite the billions spent over 50 years is: ‘Go Ahead, Make My Dinner’?

What is it that makes something ‘resonate’?

When you go to a museum and walk through a gallery, every once in a while a painting or a photograph reaches out to you and touches you in a very deep way. This is the power of art. Art does more than simply reproduce a scene; it is a vehicle for communication. A great painting communicates to you on an emotional level – how the artists felt, how the scene makes you feel. A great painting is a kind of time machine. Although the artist may have been dead for 300 years, the painting continues to radiate, to transmit that emotion directly to you.

When we look at Irises by Van Gogh, we don’t say, ‘hey, nice flowers, well lit’. We feel something in Van Gogh, communicated by the oils on canvas. When we look at the Mona Lisa by DaVinci, we don’t say, ‘she should be looking left’, we are taken by the emotion and mystery DaVinci is communicating to us through the painting.

Television is a visual medium.

It should have the same communicative power as painting or photojournalism. Television that deals with journalism should do it even moreso.

But it does not.

Not yet.

It does not because we still think of television ‘shooting’ as recording ‘reality’ in a technical way, not as a mechanism to capture and transmit emotion.

This is because of the technology we used to use. Big, heavy expensive cameras were mounted on tripods, scenes were lit and action took place in front of the camera. The ‘stand up’ in news is a remnant of this kind of thinking.

But the cameras, and the medium as a whole, are capable of so much more. There is a whole world of passion and emotion and visual ‘moments’ that could be captured and communicated.

To change the medium; to explore the full range of potential that the medium allows, we have to first change our relationship to the camera. The camera has to become an extension of ourselves.

Instead of thinking of it as a tool to record reality as it exists, we have to begin to think of the camera as a creative device to communicate emotion. If you, as the video empowered journalist, can ‘feel’ something in a moment, in a story, in a scene, and then extend that feeling, through the camera, to your audience, you will have succeeded in taking television and video journalism to another level of sophistication entirely.

Photo journalism underwent this transition in the 1940s-1960s. It went from being a mechanism to record events to a very powerful and personal instrument of communicating emotion, pathos, passion….

Look at the photo above, which I found on Dirck Halstead’s excellent blog devoted to the digital journalist www.digitaljournalist. net

Can we not take videojournalism where photojournalism has proven we can go? Can we not then enhance that visual power with sound and writing? The potential of videojournalism is so enormous… We have not even scratched the surface of what is possible. Yet.


One response to “The Power of an Image

  1. Comment from Cyndy Green. Received as email and published with her permission:

    I have a great deal of admiration for you and what you are doing to
    revitalize news video. However, I sense an anger…and it has come
    across in your comments on the yahoo photo site and in your
    wordpress blog. TV photogs are not the enemy…I spend many years
    in the field hauling more gear than I care to remember and I left
    feeling somewhat broken and disillussioned…but without anger. TV
    is a monster…and it uses public airwaves to make a scandelous
    profit. There are more faults with the current setup than I have
    time or care to go into. Trust me, I’ve seen it all.
    It distresses me to read some of your comments. You have such a
    great opportunity to be a unifying force rather than one that
    drives a wedge between the new and the old. I have former co-
    workers who have no clue about what their futures are – they are
    too buys feeding the monster. They are, however, good people who
    mean well and do their best to be objective and ethical each and
    every day. And they along with countless others have made
    contributions to visual news – which you shoot down. TV photogs
    have not emerged as artists because the system holds them
    down…from time to time there are names that emerge and then
    disappear. As you see, I agree with much of what you say…but I
    disagree with how you word your views. Don’t beat those already
    abused by the system. They need to be commended for not giving up.
    Cyndy Green

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