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Updated September 10, 2022

The Power of The Photograph

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The Power of The Photograph essay
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Humankind lingers in a cave, participating in their own ignorance, and away from the narratives truth spoken by a photograph. They say, “a picture speaks is worth 1,000 words” (Fred R. Barnard), interpretation being key to how we perceive the “story” to be. In other words, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have the right to observe. Ignorance, and opinions are part of human nature. It’s unavoidable, however ignorance can be bliss, but the same can’t be said with opinions. Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one. Though Sontag and Hooks conclude that photographs are reasonable, they aren’t fully reliable as they don’t counter the idea of the photograph being misinterpreted, and thus creating controversy. This holds true in even today’s society with H and M’s “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” hoodie, placed upon millions of advertisements.

H and M is known as a “fast fashion” store, delivering on trendy streetwear fashion for cheap. Graphic Tees being the more popular items for sale. However, it seems that the fashion store seems to put a racial twist with their graphic items. Targeting black children, and unfortunately making it makes seem the racial stereotype is okay to say/display even on kids (even though it’s not). I’m sure H and M knew what they were doing when uploading that photo. Perhaps they wanted to be controversial, so the hoodie can make more sales, but in the end-this was a failed marketing attempt. To the passive eyes, or H and M’s eyes, this may seem like a normal everyday marketing ad for hoodies. But take a closer look, and all hell breaks loose. “Coolest Monkey In the Jungle”, on a black kids hoodie, isn’t funny, and all it did was bring back an old racist stereotypes portrayed mostly during world war 2, and civil rights movement. This is what is known as perspective, or interpretation, of the photo. The company may see nothing wrong with this photo, perhaps there is a small chance this went over their heads, and mistakenly did this. In fact, H&M hosted an 80% off sale all because of that racist sweater, with the slogan “H and M’s not racist”. However, most customers say otherwise. The photo fuels controversy, which gets our attention, and thus more perspectives.

“To collect photographs is to collect the world” (1). One photograph is all it takes to bring you closer to a certain part of the world. Seeing it, is just the first part to bringing it closer to you. One photograph, or rather 1 failed controversial marketing later, sales have plummeted. According to eurweb, “H&M’s earnings have taken a huge hit. The world’s second-largest clothing retailer has piles of unsold clothes worth more than $4 billion.” The world clearly doesn’t have the same perspective of H and M, despite their 80% off sale. Speaking of bringing closer, hooks article highlights the historical controversy of this picture : “Before racial integration there was a constant struggle on the part of black folks to create a counter hegemonic world of images that would stand as visual resistance, challenging racist images”, and “the history of black liberation movements in the United States could be characterized as a struggle over images as much as it has also been a struggle for rights, for equal access(57).

Interestingly the camera allowed black folks to freely express themselves, used intelligently to resist any type misrepresentation. “Though rarely articulated as such, the camera became in black life a political instrument, a way to resist misrepresentation as well as a means by which alternative images could be produced.” However, she contradicts herself within her own article, with the photograph of her dad. In the introduction of her essay, hooks describe her favorite photo of her father, describing her father wearing his white t-shirt, and a “confident, seductive, cool” vibe (54), and titling the photo as “in his glory”. The contradiction comes when her sister G. refuses to share it with bell hooks who was passionate, and outrage in her. G even describes the photo as “a horrible photograph of dad” further adding “It’s disgusting. He’s not even wearing a shirt, just an old white undershirt.” (55)

Following this experience, hooks understand, “we see the same man, we do not see him in the same way.” When more than one representation is seen within a photo, there will always be a possibility for someone to misrepresent it. I could even have a different perspective on it, to me all the photo is just a black man standing, in possibly his house, the photo is very grainy, and he’s happy. It doesn’t have any emotional impact on me, but to hooks, or her sisters, my perspective could be misrepresentation. For example, to G., to support her personal need to remain the possessor of her Dad’s affection, she utilized the power of the photograph handling it in a way that would not allow either sister to get close to him, that’s why she keeps the photo to herself. While, hooks want to “rescue and preserve this image of [her] father” (56) and for it to “represent” her father in her imagination as an image of him she could love. These opposing views shed light on how representation can be altered based on the viewer relationship and life experience with what they see.

Comparing today with the past, nothing has changed in terms of misrepresentation of photographs. In fact, it’s gotten worse, with SJWs, Nazi feminism, and overall people on social media. It seems even the most innocent of photos, can fall subject to misrepresentation, or in other words “offended”, for example the Jennifer Lawrence dress controversy “She looked frozen and out of place”. This all depends on the perspective we have, which can be influenced by many things, such as the time(year), culture, other people’s perspectives, etc. On the other hand, there are times admittedly when social media users have been useful in taking down actual racist/stereotypical posts, such as previously mentioned H and M “coolest monkey in the jungle”.

They say, “a picture speaks is worth a 1,000 words” (Fred R. Barnard), interpretation being key to how we perceive the “story” to be. In other words, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have the right to observe. Though Sotang and Hooks conclude that photographs are reasonable, they aren’t fully reliable as they don’t counter the idea of the photograph being misinterpreted, and thus creating controversy. Controversy will continue exist, as long as human beings have different perspectives, or in other words as long as we exist. Ignorance, and opinions are part of human nature. It’s unavoidable, however ignorance can be bliss, but the same can’t be said with opinions. Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one.

References

  1. Hooks, Bell. In Our Glory:Photography and Black Life. Bell Hooks,drive.google.com/file/d/1_ZZE876UtV1QHlApIWnceIdhrjdw2Tbh/view.
  2. Sontag, Susan. In Plato’s Cave. RossetaBooks, drive.google.com/file/d/1npMG04Ior6NP3BSCTIgScpRaqs8vjfwy/view.
  3. Stack, Liam. “H&M Apologizes for ‘Monkey’ Image Featuring Black Child.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/08/business/hm-monkey.html.
  4. Emery, David. “H&M Apologizes for ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ Hoodie Promotion.” Snopes.com, Snopes, 11 Jan. 2018, www.snopes.com/news/2018/01/08/hm-coolest-monkey-jungle/.
  5. Thomas, Lauren. “H&M Slammed as Racist for ‘Monkey in the Jungle’ Hoodie.” CNBC, CNBC, 8 Jan. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/01/08/hm-slammed-for-racist-monkey-in-the-jungle-hoodie.html.
  6. Report, Electronic Urban. “H&M’s Profits Plunge Following Racist ‘Coolest Monkey’ Hoodie Ad.” EURweb, Eurweb, 1 Apr. 2018, www.eurweb.com/2018/04/hms-profits-plunge-following-racist-coolest-monkey-hoodie-ad/.

The Power of The Photograph essay

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FAQ

How did the photograph impact society?
Photos were taken hundreds of years ago can spread information about how people lived, what nature was like, what people did and what the world around them looked like . Therefore, many people can confidently assert that photography is the most important invention since the printing press.
What does a photograph teach us?
To be myself and believe in what I do, without compromising my work, my style and my desire to do better . To be more curious. To throw myself into the situation trying to understand the root of what's happening.
What is the importance of photograph?
Photography is important because we can document something and have it forever . Photography lets us see something we may never have noticed otherwise. Photography is a way to express your ideas for others to see.
Why is photography so powerful?
Photography, at its best, is a powerful language that speaks to our emotions. It allows us to tell our story and shows others our framing of the world around us .
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