The power of a photograph

This shocking image and others like it of the tragic death of a young child attempting to escape the horrors of war, has had more impact than any other published image that I can remember for many years. It has even had the effect of changing the position of the UK governement from 'Keep them out at all costs' to 'What we can do to help?' (Well almost!!)

This awful event isn't the first time that something like this has happened in the so-called 'migrant crisis' in Europe and I doubt it will be the last, but because images have been taken and have been circuated worldwide, the repercussions have been enormous.

I find it difficult to look at the picture above and keep my eyes dry and that seems to be a reaction that has spread across the world. And it seems that this is what it has taken for the European countries involved (and the UK in particular) to see these desperate people as human beings rather than just nuisances and freeloaders. The UK has a somewhat spurious reputation as being a haven for those in distress because of the ravages of conflict. Unfortunately we have politicians and political parties here who are less than charitable towards those who it is plain have suffered beyond imagination. There are many Brits who take xenophobia to extremes and those of us who regard people who are prepared, if necessary, to walk across Europe to get here, as just the kind of immigrants we need have been ashamed of the attitude of some (though by no means all) of our fellow countrymen for some time.

However, because of a collection of what after all are horrific images, have been widely published, things may be changing. There are still enormous difficulties to be managed (and I suspect never solved) and there is obviously no quick (or slow for that matter) fix for this, but at last large numbers of my fellow UK residents are now seeing this a real, humanised situation with all it's accompanying misery and cost in lives, rather than some abstract discussion of what we want our country to be (and who should live here). And while it may sound callous to state it, I'm glad it's photography that has achieved this. Because if we want to make a difference as photographers, then we have to be prepared to confront the horrors as well as the wonders of this world.

Could / would I have taken the images like the ones above if I had been there?  I cannot answer that as I've never been in that position. I remember reading about the experiences of the photographer Lee Miller when she was with the troops who were the first to arrive at Dachau and I can only imagine what that did to her and the soldiers she was with. And while it may seem strange to publish an article like this in my blog, I make no apology for it. Because in the midst of all the discussions about gear and technique it is right to remember that on occasions a camera is mightier than both a pen or a sword. Images can change attitudes and can set things in motion that means lives are saved. And fortunately the social documentary tradition means that is a more likely scenario than the opposite effect. Because as photographers, we are also human beings and the possibility to use our 'art' for informing and educating our fellows about the reality of the human condition should be regarded as a privilege rather than something to run away from.

And while I hope that I never have to encounter what the photographer who took the image at the top of the page has, I would hope that if I did I would 'do the right thing' and not run away. Beacause it's only too obvious that recording the unimaginable might in this case have been the right thing to do. Today I'm proud to call myself a photographer.