Visuals: one piece of an advanced puzzle

Last week, Carel van Wijk talked in his presentation about the reliability of visuals. He states that pictures may take different forms when they go around the world. He argues that the use of Photoshop is one of the causes for this. Today, I am going to talk about the appearing of different forms of visuals (pictures as well as videos) in various newspapers about the same news topic and in special about visuals that shows the situation in a war zone.

Framing visuals
Earlier, I talked about news framing and agenda-setting of the stories they tell in the newspapers, but you can also frame visuals. One classical example of this is the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in the Iraq War on April 9th, 2003. An event that was visual portrayed in all the media worldwide. In the research ‘They took it down’ of Fahmy, they examined the visual framing across newspapers of the toppling. They concluded that, in overall, the U.S. newspapers used a victory/liberation frame for the news of the toppling. They reported the happening as that the Iraqi people received the U.S. forces as ‘liberators’ and some of the media even compared the event with the removal of Lenin statues and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only a few media were more critical. The following videos show that the event actually was visually framed.

Not only in the videos they used visual frames. When you look at the three pictures below, you see three different pictures of the toppling of the statue. All these pictures stopped the time of the event. This means, when you weren’t there at the moment that the picture was made, you totally miss the context of the picture. As a consequence, you are completely dependent of the story that the people tell you and at this point the media organizations come in to the story. They can choose the story they want to tell to their audience. According to Fahmy, many U.S. media took shots of the toppling at close range or cropped them tightly. When you take a look at picture 1 (which appears in the New York Times) and you think of the ‘liberating’ story that the U.S. media told their audience, it looks like that there was a crowd of jubilant Iraqis celebrating the toppling with U.S. soldiers. This way of photographing makes it very difficult to estimate how large the crowd really is. When the photographer would have taken a long-shot photograph the situation would have looked a lot different. You can see this in the second picture. The whole square is depicted and it is actually quite empty; only at the foot of the statue you see a really small crowd. A contrary story of this situation can made with picture 3, were the photograph take close pictures of the action. This picture can visualize a situation of an invasion and occupation of the U.S, because the only thing that you see is the U.S. soldier that drapes a flag of the U.S. over the face of the statue.

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Picture 1 ‘Jubilant Iraqis celebrating the toppling with U.S. soldiers’

saddamStatueMed

Picture 2 ‘A long-shot photograph of the square’

saddam-statue1

Picture 3 ‘An U.S. soldier drapes a flag over the face of the statue’

Fahmy also state that journalists, during the war, are less objective to support their country’s troops and their government’s position on the war. The results of another research of Greenwood and Jenkins show that the international news about the Syrian conflict is often visually framed in terms of violence and disaster. In other words: the pictures depicted most often the active participants and aftermath of battle instead of the affected bystanders or efforts to negotiate peace. Besides this they conclude that the framing depends on the kind of magazine: the news magazine published more with violent frames and public relation magazines more with peaceful frames.

In conclusion, in my opinion the use of Photoshop certainly can be one of the causes of varying pictures across newspapers and different videos, but the chosen frame and the goals of the news organizations have also an influence on it. As a consequence, I have to conclude again that it is important to read more than one news source to check the information you read. Especially, when the news goes about war. In addition to this advice, you have to ask yourself questions about the context when you look at a picture. A picture without a context can be interpreted in so many ways. Therefore, read more articles of several sources and look critically at pictures to complete your own reliable news puzzle!

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5 thoughts on “Visuals: one piece of an advanced puzzle

  1. The lesson I learned after following this course is that you have to be critical about news and everything you see and read. I believe that pictures can create a frame, even when an article doesn’t really has an obvious one. Photoshop belongs to our society but I think it is wrong journalists use it. A picture should be strong without it. The danger of using pictures to complement your story is that they tell a story on their own. They help you form your opinion on a topic. If pictures are misleading, so will your own opinion. Reading several news sources is a good way to stay objective, but also being critical will help you with that. Don’t trust everything you read or see.

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  2. As you can read in my blog, we almost talk about the same thing. Framing is something weird, because it is hard to decide whether it is done on purpose or not. Photoshop takes it a step further, because someone puts time and effort in manipulating a picture. In some cases, especially in online news, the pictures are just quickly assigned to an article. So reader might infer a lot of meaning from the picture, while the journalist did not intent to do this.

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  3. A picture tells a 1000 words- is the adage that describes how much a photograph can say. In some cases, just as the examples you use, can easily tell so much, you just have to frame it and voila you have the story and its evidence.
    Your post is a good warning and a lesson, because you show clearly how visual material can be used to mislead and then, at the you explain why and give advice.

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  4. In times of war framing is a dangerous tool. Framing in visualizations maybe is even more dangerous than framing in written sources. The vividness of a image is so large that a lot of people will adjust their opinions to it. I do agree that you have to check different sources to really verify the reliability of a picture and ‘complete your puzzle’ in that way.

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  5. I agree that photoshopping images can be dangerously misleading. In the examples you’ve used photoshopping isn’t the largest problem though. It is indeed framing, whether or not the pictures are real. Pictures are a powerful tool to mislead readers and photographers are aware of that. If you have the right idea about how you should take your photograph in order to make it support your story, you don’t even need photoshop to distort the truth. I think that taking pictures in general is a hard thing to avoid or forbid, and that it doen’t even have to be beneficial. That’s why I believe that strongly framed photographs that aren’t photoshopped are a sort of art and can be used to make a story better.

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