The quality of news and information that we are constantly exposed to has a huge impact on the course of our civilization. They can affect our psychological and physical states and shape our future. I have a question for us photojournalists and content creators and for the media that select and distribute our content: where do we want to head, toward problems or solutions?
Imagine holding a big, fresh, juicy lemon in your hands. Now imagine cutting it into slices, feel the acidic juice dripping onto your skin and perceive the overwhelmingly sour aroma spreading in the air. Now you take a juicy slice and stick it in your mouth, suck on it and taste its pungent tart flavor.
Is your mouth salivating? More than likely yes, because our body responds to images.
That’s why athletes use visualization to enhance their performance, and so do surgeons, musicians, actors or stockbrokers. Visualization is used to quit smoking, control weight and even by cancer patients. It’s not magic but it is a powerful tool: what we see can affect our psychological and physical states. Now, some people deliberately visualize an ideal future in order to be half-way there while… most people constantly “visualize” bad news on our economy, planet, society and so on…
Is this affecting our future? I believe that it is.
Some people say that the tragic state of our world is a self fulfilling prophecy. I wouldn’t go that far but I am pretty sure that the quality of news and information that we are constantly exposed to has a huge impact on the course of our civilization.
Having some experience in the information industry, I see this as an ethical issue. I personally have great admiration for all those photographers who put their lives on the line to report on tragic issues.
It’s absolutely right and proper to call attention to the terrible injustices around us. Especially now. We still have people saying “why migrants don’t stay home, in their own countries?”. Facts need to be known. Truth needs to be told. Everyone needs to be informed.
At the same time I believe that storytelling could be used a bit more to inspire viewers and a bit less to show the atrocity and horror of our world. The same issue can be explored from different prospectives and even something tragic can be covered focusing on solutions rather than problems. To have an idea of what I mean, check out my Made In Prison: A New Model Of Sustainable Social Enterprise.
Recently, I saw a photo essay showing nothing but the sadness and squalor in the lives of two prostitutes. The composition, the lighting, the colors and everything else were perfectly devised to underscore just how miserable these two human beings were. I found that irritating. There is enough sadness in our world and no need to exaggerate it or keep recreating it.
There is a difference between constructive information/denunciation and the tendency to linger complacently on unhappiness or bad news, the tendency to transform the ugliness of our world into an entertaining product.
But honestly: is this a surprise? We are very used to bad news, information organs often select what to cover by its degree of truculence: one person killed may have a hard time making the news, two or three have a better chance, a massacre is likely to have a great audience and a huge disaster will keep the viewers glued to the TV screen and to the pages of newspapers and magazines for weeks.
How about showing the beauty of our world from time to time?
No, I am NOT suggesting that we look at the world through rose-colored lenses and become oblivious to a troubled reality. I am only offering my point of view on a need for uplifting, encouraging and inspiring news.
Now, imagine if all media suddenly changed the current trend and started dedicating equal time to bad news and good news. How would that be? Okay, let’s be really utopian: imagine if the media began bombarding us with news that focuses on solutions rather than problems, articles on empowering innovations. Here is an example of what I mean by inspiring news:
In Malmo, Sweden, a project sponsored by the government inaugurated a system that turns domestic waste into methane gas and fertilizer. Stockholm Water now produces several billion cubic meters of methane gas, which is used for private cars, public transportation and one train. Municipal street cleaners now have a lighter job and taxes on wastes have been reduced.
This is a big thing. Did you ever hear of it? Highlighting success stories can be positively contagious, someone might want to replicate that idea, but how much space are the media actually dedicating to this kind of good news? The world is not made only of problems, but the information industry really puts a lot of attention on them: violence, wars, disasters, scandals… the rougher the better. Two politicians fighting on TV ensures a higher audience share than a composed and intelligent discussion.
Unfortunately the most commonly offered alternative seems to be evasion: brainwashing reports on celebrities, on what’s cool, fashionable or funny and other sensational or escapist infotainment.
For me, publishing mainly in fashion magazines, it’s always sad to realize that my clients have a weakness for a frivolous angle and would like me to glamorize every report that I shoot. But I am driven by a slightly subversive instinct and in recent years I have been able to give space to issues that do not necessarily match the latest lipstick color. One example is the successful series “Urban Local Heroes”, where I looked around the world for everyday people working on innovative projects in their local communities.
It feels good knowing that my stories can help readers find out that getting involved in a community project may be much more fulfilling than buying the latest shoes.
This is not always possible because magazines are very careful to publish only what sells and doesn’t clash with the interests of advertisers (if you want to know more on this issue, you might want to read this article). Still, I love the fact that the aesthetic of the tragic or the glamorization of reality are not the only two alternatives in our information panorama. The portion of the public that shows their appreciation for empowering reports seems to grow and this is very good news.
Information can affect our psychological state, the way we perceive reality and the decisions we make. An increase in uplifting, encouraging and inspiring news could possibly effect our lives and our future. Can you picture it?
That’s why I go for uplifting photojournalism. What about you? Would you like to work on uplifting features? You’ll be amazed about the number of good news to cover you will find, once you start looking for them.
About the Author
Enzo dal Verme is an Italian portrait photographer based in Milan. He’s been in the photographic industry for over 15 years and had his work featured in various magazines like Vanity Fair, l’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Sport, Glamour and many others. If you would like to see more of his work, visit his website and follow him on Twitter. If you prefer paper to digital formats, you can read his book Storytelling for Photojournalists. This article was also published here and shared with permission.