Our words often fail us in situations involving the best and worst of the world. Sometimes, all we can say is “You have to see it to believe it.” The photograph allows us to travel to these places, the places that words cannot take us. What’s occasionally lost in all of this is just how important the person behind the camera is to capturing what’s in front of it.
Protests in Turkey have spread over the last week, as dissidents across the country continue to take to the streets to protest the dictatorial actions of the central government. Recent curbs of alcohol sales, restrictions on unions, and other attempts to impose strict Islamic law initially triggered demonstrations. It’s the brutal police response to these protests, however, that now appears to be driving unrest.
Much has been written about what’s happening in Turkey, but it’s a picture that seems to say it all.
It’s a picture that’s commanded the world’s attention.
“A single frame has distilled the experience of the protests and the crackdowns, of an angry people and callous government, into one crisp and indelible image,” said Pulitzer prize winning journalist C.J. Chivers, in an interview with the NPPA.
The “lady in red” as she is being called, was sprayed in the face with teargas at a park in Istanbul. The image of what befell her is considered emblematic of the vicious crackdown on what began as peaceful protests.
As important as the photograph is to drawing attention to yet another popular uprising in the Middle East, it’s also significant in another way. The “lady in red” is a stark reminder that the professional photographer is a fundamental element of an effective news media.
“Look at it [the photograph] closely. Look at the frames taken immediately before and after,” said Chivers speaking shortly after the layoffs at the Chicago Sun-Times. Chivers, who writes for the New York Times and compiles and shoots photographs for his blog, drew a link between the two events, “This photograph exposes the folly of thinking that citizen journalists can replace experienced photojournalists. What you see required a mix that few of us who wander around in public with point-and shoots or smartphones can match: high-functioning equipment, well-conditioned technical skills and the eye and touch of an accomplished artist, all applied together in quickly shifting and painful circumstances.” Chivers also noted that “Citizen journalists or writers with smartphone cameras can and do complement professional photographers.” “But this single frame shows the difference between the former and the latter, and is a tribute not just to the protesters, but to the real thing,” he concluded.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is equally important to remember that the eloquence of those words flows from the eye of the person who made the image.