Shaping Perception Through A Photograph Essay

2427 words - 10 pages

Against a bleak backdrop, U.S troops stand thrusting an American flag into the grey skies. The shards of wreckage at their feet speak of the arduous journey these soldiers had taken to reach the summit of the mountain. Despite the grim setting on the ground, the American flag waves on in a perfect manner swaying along with the wind gusts. As a photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal in 1945, this image of U.S troops raising a flag in Iwo Jima during World War II served as a symbol of hope and victory for the American public during the gruesome end to war. The photograph earned Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize, and showed the extant of the power of a photograph to elicit emotion from an audience. These emotions have the ability to affect ones’ perception towards what the photograph is depicting. However, if these photographs can produce an emotional response, is it possible for them to steer the perception of the audience in a desired direction? If so, is there a way for one to sift through the possible propaganda?
The issue of misleading photographs is present in Susan Sontag’s essay “Looking at War”. Sontag looks towards the affect a photograph has on the public. She writes that “the photographs say, this is what [war is] like” (Sontag, 141), guiding the conception of the audience who had not had the first hand experience of being on the battlefield. Photographs are able to convey a message beyond the borders of a frame; by putting words into a physical representation that one feels they can relate to. These images, according to Sontag, are “photography as shock” (Sontag, 140) and are engineered to elicit an emotional response from the audience. These shocking images are able to “show how war evacuates, shatters, breaks apart, levels the built world” (Sontag, 140), leaving the audience in a vulnerable poignant state. Joe Rosenthal’s photograph is one that was able to elicit an emotional response from an audience—one of hope and justification of the war efforts. For when the image of an American flag prevailing over destruction is shown, it instills a sense of victory into the perception of the public. But is this newly instilled feeling of patriotism honest? Seeing images of war is thought as showing one the reality of the battlefield, and causes one to advance their interest in the events. Within the borders of the photograph, one is able to regard “at a distance, though the medium of photography—other people’s pain”(Sontag, 141), increasing feelings on empathy and desire to take action. The photographs that are eliciting these emotions are geared to have a shock value—one that can be manipulated by the point of view of the photographer.
The image as a whole is one that has the intention to provoke. However, in this intention to prompt a response to a war photograph from an audience, is the identity of the subject individual lost? In Lawrence Weschler’s essay “Vermeer in Bosnia” he writes of the struggle to find the identity of the individual amongst...

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