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Drawing with light: the importance of photo research in a visual world

“Photography helps people to see.”

Berenice Abbott









During his travels through Asia during the 13th century, Marco Polo encountered a series of animals that were unknown to Europeans: monkeys, elephants, and crocodiles. It happened that the explorer confused such strange animals with creatures of European mythology. And because all the evidence he had was his memories and writings, his readers had no choice but to believe or ignore the descriptions of unicorns who like to roll in the mud and dirt. Nowadays we know that the horned animals that Marco Polo saw in the far east were not unicorns but rhinoceroses. Such information is proven to us through the medium of photography.



The original photograph (photo = light, graph = writing), or the image created by the entrance of light through a lens inside a camera that contains a film that is burned by the light, has evolved into new devices with technological possibilities and social relevance that has made the image something intrinsic to our society. Such ubiquity has created a lens-based culture, or a culture where visualization is the main medium for the transmission of information.


The presence of the photographic image, still or in movement, has revolutionized the world. Why is this? Because visual transmission of information does not require the use of imagination nor the difficult task of reading. We used the photographic image to

record history, tell stories, show the unknown, create art, create awareness, and share feelings (empathy, hate, confusion). The visual image can also persuade, deceive, highlight the mundane details of everyday life, and reinterpret reality and the world. Unlike other mediums of visual representation, like painting and sculpture, the photographic image is an utterly realistic and highly expressive medium that can make real whatever is in front of the lens. As such, photography is a medium that has the advantage of transmitting a deep message to an immense audience in a practical and effective form. Consequently, the visual image has the power of supporting or opposing hegemonic ideologies.


How can we use photo research for our project with Fundación Portolà?


As we said, photography has an immense power to provoke emotions that the spoken or written word cannot do. Popular beliefs of people with intellectual disabilities (ID) are constantly reinforced because very little attention is given to such group(s) and because the relatively few images on the internet depict people with disabilities as people that are incomplete and are always in need of solidarity and kindness, always in the company of a “normal” human being.


But the medium of photography is indifferent to the intentions of s/he who holds the camera. A visual image can be used to reaffirm popular beliefs or disrupt them. As such, photo research can be used to understand society and then change it.


Accordingly, our photo research has the following objectives.


  • Research the popular representation(s) of people with disabilities on the internet. What do they show? How is this group portrayed? How are these images used? To what cultural representations, discourses, ideologies these images appeal?

  • Understand who are the main actors who diffuse images of ID people on the internet. Why do they do so? What is the purpose?


Once we understand what's out there, we can take action on the main goal of our client: a) to make people with intellectual disabilities more visible to society, and b) to sensitize the rest of society about the exclusion of this group(s).

As such, the power of photography can be used to show how people with disabilities are not dependent, useless, boring, childish, asexual, and indifferent. The visual image can be used to show another angle of their lives.


Some concrete actions that can be used for our project are the following.


  • Help in the rebranding of our client by portraying people with ID in a different light: to counter the minimization they are always subject to as a strategy to attract funding for the organization.

  • Disrupt the popular discourse of people with ID through the diffusion of photos that break stereotypes and promote new perceptions. This can be achieved through the revitalization of our client’s digital networks.

As millennials, we strongly believe in the power of the visual image, because what is not visually re-presented today is not considered present.



References:

https://www.history.com/news/11-things-you-may-not-know-about-marco-polo





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