A Picture Might Say A Thousand Words, But…

Week 3: Looking At Others: mediated suffering and ‘poverty porn’

A single photograph has the ability to evoke the deepest emotions, generate conversation and change, transform a story into something that is newsworthy and eye -catching. On the other hand, it also has the potential to cause harm and unwanted distress. We are bombarded with emerging news stories every single day. Although it may be the job of journalists and media editors to break away from all the competition in order to grab our attention, but is it necessary to expose the public to images of suffering? I would like to say no, but unfortunately it seems we only seem to notice or even care if there is photographic evidence of an issue or crisis.

As discussed in the lecture, suffering may be visible, but not seen. So, who suffers more when faced with an image of suffering? Is it the victim presented in the photograph, or is it the viewer? Of course it should be the victim, but is that how we react when we are confronted with these images? When we do see an image of suffering, we immediately feel empathy for those in the photograph. Whilst we sit there thinking about how bad we feel about what we’ve seen, we tend to forget that the victim is actually suffering and for the most part, they need our help. Personally, I think the reason we react in such a way is because we are desensitised to what is happening overseas. We aren’t used to seeing images of people suffering. We’re so used to amusing memes popping up on our Facebook page that when we something more serious, we don’t know how to appropriately act and respond.

So, what is the morally acceptable response of seeing suffering presented throughout the media? Is it okay to feel sorry for those in these images who are suffering? Boltanksi (1999) argues that spectators can actively involve themselves and others by talking about what they have seen and how they were affected by it. When these controversial and devastating images are presented to us, there is no denying what is said throughout the media is true and actually happening. These images encourage us to not only sympathise with the victim depicted in the photograph, but ultimately the issue at hand.

A prime example of this was the use of a controversial image of a young Syrian refugee who was found washed up along a Turkish shore. Not only did the photograph generate conversation about the devastating refugee crisis, it also brought the use controversial images throughout the media to light. Whether you saw the raw photograph or the censored version, the image itself was a powerful representation of the refugee crisis (Franklin 2015). It made us think about how serious the crisis was, and still is, and the lengths individuals were going to get away from harm and danger.


The controversy that also surrounded this image involved it being shared all over new and traditional media. Some users and viewers found the image too graphic and confronting to be on their television screen, the front page of their newspaper or their news feed. Although this image represented the reality of the refugee crisis, the real question we should be asking ourselves is whether those that published the uncensored image used it for the right reasons. Did certain media outlets use this image of suffering as a tool to draw more attention to the refugee crisis or as a click bait strategy to gain more views or to sell more copies of their newspaper?



Boltanski, L 1999, Distant suffering: morality, media and politics, University Press, Cambridge.

Franklin, TE 2015, ‘How a single photograph may be changing the way the world thinks’, Vice News, 5 September, viewed 3 April 2016, <https://news.vice.com/article/how-a-single-photograph-may-be-changing-the-way-the-world-thinks>

The ‘Selfie’

Week 2: Looking At Ourselves: social media and the quantified self

Our identity defines who we are as a person. We may like to think we are all individuals who shape our own identity, but unfortunately that is not that case. As discussed during the lecture, our identity arises from our interactions with others. To expand on this, the people we spend time with, our experiences, and the world around us define who we are and how we see ourselves. But, has this changed over the past decade?

The ‘selfie’, what is it exactly?

“A fast self-portrait, made with a smartphone’s camera and immediately distributed and inscribed into a network, is an instant visual communication of where we are, what we’re doing, who we think we are, and who we think is watching”
Jerry Saltz (2014)


Believe it or not, we are currently living in the age of the ‘selfie’. Actually that shouldn’t shock you whatsoever. Instead of taking a photo to help us remember a particular event or occasion, we are taking photos of ourselves and immediately posting and sharing them online. This culture of taking a photo of one’s self and sharing it online for all to see is becoming an everyday practice. Regardless of whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or SnapChat, I can guarantee if you were to open one of those applications right now you will see a selfie. It’s not news that technological advances have changed the way we interact with other individuals, but is the selfie phenomenon and social media influencing the way we look at ourselves and how others perceive us?

According to Saltz (2014), the selfie is changing aspects of our social interaction, self-awareness, privacy and public behaviour. With a shift towards using online media to determine one’s status and importance, the rise of the ‘attention economy’ and a shift in celebrity culture, those who constantly take and post ‘selfies’ on social media are gradually being seen as more narcissistic than those who do not. To some extent, the selfie is being used as both a social validation and gratification in that we post photographs of ourselves online as a way of boosting our self-esteem and seeking appraisal and positive reactions from our peers. The amount of likes or comments a selfie receives provides an individual with an indication of their social worth, but of course this is not the case for everyone. The number of friends on Facebook, followers on Instagram or the amount of likes, comments and shares a photo receives are directly related to how worthy we see ourselves (Bevacqua 2014).

You might think taking a photo of yourself is completely innocent and harmless, but the reality is that it may be doing more harm than good. Everyday we are bombarded and exposed to hundreds of images and messages about the ‘perfect body’ and other unrealistic ideals of perfection. As we become more aware of celebrities and these images, we start to compare ourselves to them. Not only can this be harmful in terms of our self-esteem, it has the potential to damage our self-image. This is due to our constant need to depend on other individual’s perceptions, judgements and ultimately their approval, regardless if they are our closest friends or individuals that we have never met in person before. kim-__2729336a.jpg


Bevacqua, F 2014, How selfies actually lower self-esteem, Frank Bevacqua Ph.D., viewed 1st April 2016, < http://frankbevacquaphd.com/how-selfies-actually-lower-self-esteem>

Saltz, J 2014, Art at arm’s length: A history of the selfie, Vulture, viewed 23rd March 2016, <http://www.vulture.com/2014/01/history-of-the-selfie.html>