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Making an impact on the media with photographs
13th November, 2005

by Tina Junday

Photojournalism has always had a significant impact in the press, with notable examples of poignant stills illustrating an event in a powerful way.

In 2004, Arko Datta, Indian photographer of Reuters won the Photo of the Year Award. His photograph exemplified the pangs of the tsunami aftermath with a woman lamenting the death of a relative in Cuddalore, India. He decided to hide the entirely bloated grotesque looking body and reveal only the hand presenting the image as an intriguing and thought provoking photograph.

The impact of such a photograph instigated a world-wide response in news reports. Charity organisations such as British Red Cross and World Emergency Relief have unveiled her images to boost donations after the media attention it received.

On this backdrop, Steve McCurry's fruitful collection of work as a noted photojournalist is currently on display at the New Asia House gallery in London.

His career exploded when his picture was printed on the 1985 cover page of the National Geographic magazine. The popular portrait of Sharbat Gula labelled 'Afghan Girl' told the story of an alienated and vulnerable 12 year old refugee girl that fled to Peshawar, Pakistan during the Soviet Invasion in Afghanistan.

McCurry's 'Afghan Girl' captivated the hearts of millions with the courageous intensity of her dazzling green eyes expressing anxiety and fear, both alert yet unrefined, during the catastrophic plunder on her country.

The Soviet invasion on Afghanistan would explain the ruthless air strikes on her village that left her parents dead, yet the distressing photograph made such an impact that, as McCurry puts it: "I don't think a week has gone by for 15 or however many years that I still don't get requests from people, trying to get information on her."

17 years later he tracked her down and took pictures of the timid woman once again. He calls it "one of the most memorable moments of my life."

With the incredible impact and popularity of the photograph juxtaposed with the pain and anguish of the child, it is no wonder that Peter Conrad in The Observer calls her the 'poster girl for atrocity'.

And what is Steve McCurry's secret in capturing the heightened emotion of the local people? "I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person's face."

Other photographs have had equal exposure in capturing the essence of soul and innocence. One of them was photojournalist Frank Fournier who provoked uproar after Paris Match magazine published his photograph of Omayra Sanchez in 1985. The 13 year old child died after 60 hours of exposure was so engulfed by debris that rescuers were helpless in their attempt to save her.

Even though he won the World Press Photo Premier Award for the photo during the Nevada del Ruiz volcano eruption in Columbia, many were outraged with the way in which it was handled, where technology was capable of acquiring a forceful picture, yet unable to free her.

Frank Fournier defends his case by asserting that: "I felt that the only thing I could do was to report properly on the courage and the suffering and the dignity of the little girl and hope that it would mobilise people to help the ones that had been rescued and had been saved."

Erik Refner, another award winning photographer travelled to Peshawar, Pakistan in 2001 to photograph the 10 minute burial for a 1 year old refugee from Afghanistan. He was awarded for portraying the picture as a reminder of Afghanistan, the neglected country since the Cold War.

Refner explains the unconventionality of the picture: "There is the fact that it is old people burying a young child - it should be the other way around. There is a lot of symbolism in that picture. All these things make it very powerful." The picture was warmly received by the World Press Photo foundation published as part of as photo essay only weeks after it was taken.

It is an indubitable fact that such photographs bring these news stories to life, posing the closest connection to reality people could experience unless they were there. This is why such emotive visual eccentricity in photographs makes such an impact in the media worldwide.

More on picture power from this BBC site.

The exhibition is from 7th November to 31st January
Asia House, 63 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 7LP
Tel: 020 7307 5454 or E-mail:


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