Friday, October 2, 2009

This Week in Being We, the People

Early in the project, a Constitution High School student photographing a rally for healthcare reform took a photograph of a young man holding a sign that said: “Radical Fact: 0% of Europeans want American-style healthcare.”

Last week, one of the Afghan students submitted a comment on the shutterfly page that asked “do you have any proof for this sign?” In class we debated how to respond. The sign was clearly intended to be rhetorical, and the sign holder was not purporting to make a literal, statistically verifiable statement. The Afghan student, however, had interpreted the image as a demonstration of the photographer’s own opinion, and as such, requiring some corroboration. The American students began discussing the difference between reportorial photography and documentary photography, and about the ethical obligations associated with each. Harvey Finkle pointed out that this was an example of how much power the photographer has to inform, or, on the other hand, to mislead. Even though “every picture tells a thousand stories,” stories aren’t always true.

After class, the American students went on Shutterfly to explain their approach to the Afghan student. One student wrote:
The photograph shows that here in America u have a right to protest and exchange your ideas and opinions with others. lol so to answer your question, he doesn`t really need proof because he`s kind of joking to prove a point.

Another added:
This picture is not to prove that the information on the sign is correct. It is to show peoples freedom of expression and how people have the freedom to give their opinions

Regardless of whether the American students are able to successfully convey the context of the photograph in question, the exchange has been illustrative of the power images have to represent, protect, and sometimes to distort the democratic process.

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