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The Power of a Picture

The image of a toddler’s body washed up on a Turkish beach was published and shared across the world.  The powerful image caused an international outcry over the refugee crisis in Syria, but it also raised some questions about ethics in photojournalism.

“Photos with children are always difficult,”CSUN Journalism Professor Stephanie Bluestein said.  “Any dead body is a touchy subject, but certainly when it’s a child. Having said that though, this photo really made a difference and it put this crisis on everyone’s radar, and people are starting to pay attention.”

In the early days of photojournalism, photographs of 19th century battlefields in Crimea and in the United States had great impact on people.  Mathew Brady and his crew of photographers took pictures of dead Confederate soldiers which portrayed the horror of war in ways people hadn’t seen before.

Images of dead American soldiers are not acceptable to most readers today, and many images of death remain controversial.

“I think the people need to see what’s going on,” Los Angeles Daily News photographer David Crane said. “It’s important.  Whether it’s horrible or beautiful, it’s important.”

“My only concern is that running too many dead body photos could desensitize, and perhaps has desensitized, the public,” Bluestein said. “But then on the other side, if you don’t run it, then you’re not really telling the truth, [or] letting the public know what’s going on.”

The 1930 image of a lynching in Indiana shocked people with its graphic and disturbing nature, and with the fact that it was also sold as a postcard.

“The impact of this photo is not just what’s happening there,” Crane said.  “It’s very surreal if you look at the faces of the crowd; it’s as if they’re there on a picnic.”

Dorothea Lange’s photographs of families affected by the Great Depression left a lasting impression in the minds of viewers.  The image of a migrant mother shows a family in despair, and opens the eyes of today’s viewers to how bad it was during that time.

“Any time you can take a concept like the Depression and humanize it, then it’s going to touch people’s hearts,” Bluestein said.

The humanization of the refugee crisis in Syria, achieved by the photograph showing young Aylan Kurdi lying face down on the shores of Turkey, touched hearts across the world, ultimately showing that there is power in a picture.

Moderator: Ericka Sims

Anchor: Mirna Duron

Producer: Nick Popham

Reporters: Anna Akopyan and Ashton Smith

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