27 February 2017
People tend to see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. Especially now more than ever, many individuals and groups only seem to see things that fit their narrative. I specifically spent time and looked at Franklin Square in downtown Washington, D.C. I found it very interesting that the way I photographed Franklin Square can affect the way that it is perceived and viewed. Franklin Square can be portrayed in many different lights.
Background Photgraphy shaping narratives: (1)
Photography has been around for nearly two centuries, and from the beginning, many people realized that photos can be used to influence others. The ability to capture a moment in time forever and share it with others. That is what my personal definition of photography. However, often the truth is lost in photos. That is one of the downsides of photography, that picture only gives the audience a glimpse of the what is really going on. Because of how easy it is for the truth to be lost in photo, frequently, many people take advantage of this by only taking pictures of what fits their already pre existing narrative, and leaving out anything that goes against their opinion. This can and is abused by sensational journalism, politicians, and anyone else trying to illustrate their own narrative. It is crucial to not allow oneself to fall victim to this and always be looking for new information, especially if it contradicts a belief that one might already have.
Background Franklin Square: (2)
Franklin Square was created in 1832 as a park in downtown Washington, D.C. It is believed to be named after Benjamin Franklin, although this just an assumption. Throughout that time, the park and the area directly surrounding it have seen some major historical events. Including, Alexander Graham Bell’s first wireless message, and Clara Barton founding of the Red Cross and hosting its first official meeting. Today it serves as a park for the neighborhoods surrounding it, as well as home to the Washington Post.
Photos in Positive Light:
The bridge between photos shaping narratives and Franklin Square can be scene in some of these photos. It is possible form different ideas of the park after seeing each photo. Meaning, that if one person was shown one picture of the park they would come up with a completely different conclusion about the park than if they saw a different picture. In the two photos pictured above, what conclusions would someone make about Franklin Square? That it looks clean, well-kept, welcoming? This is the point of the photos. Every photo has a purpose, and a reason to be taken. These two photos are used to portray the square in a very optimistic and welcoming light.
Photos in Negative Light:
In contrast to the two other photos, the photo that I have pictured above shows Franklin Square in vastly different way. The conclusions that someone could draw from this photo would be quite the opposite of what they were for the other photos. In this photo, homeless people can be seen camped out in tents and on park benches on a dim day. A person’s conclusion of Franklin Square is going to be different if shown this picture instead of the other two. The real interesting thing about comparing this photo and the one of the Washington Post building is that they were taken the same week as one another. Again this just furthers my point that photos shape narratives and different conclusions can be drawn about the same place by simply the way it’s photographed, and Franklin Square is no exception.
We already know that photos of the same place can lead to two different conclusions, but why does this matter? These three photos can also be used by people to strengthen pre existing narratives. For example, a local business owner would probably want the public and his customers to see photos of the park that show it as a very welcoming friendly place to visit. This could make more people open to coming to the area, which would lead to more people coming to the business owner’s shop. However, in contrast, a sensationalizing news agency might instead want to use the the picture of the homeless people in a story about how the homeless are “encroaching” into our neighborhoods. In both of these instances, someone is manipulating the truth to fit their narrative for their own gain.
Photos from Inauguration Day Protests:
The two photos I have pictured above are from Franklin Square on the evening of the Inauguration. They show two very different stories even though they were only taken minutes apart. The first photo shows in the foreground, a riot police officer standing by himself looking off into the distance. While, in the background, a group of riot police huddle talking to one another without much worry of what is happening. This is very different from what is happening in the other photo, where there is two groups of people at conflict and the same riot officers are on alert blockading part of the road. In these two instances only taken moments apart, much like that photos of Franklin Square itself, an audience will come up with different conclusions of what they think is happening. The first photo makes the need for police to even be on the scene seem pointless and that the protests were minor. Whereas, in the second photo the tension from the protestors, the supporters, and the police seem almost palpable. It does not matter if it is a place, an event, or anything else; photos can be used to manipulate ideas and depict things way some people want to see them.
Photography has the amazing ability to capture a moment in time. That moment can be one of joy and success, sadness and failure, and every possible thing in between. These moments can and are often used to shape and solidify preexisting narratives. This can be shown at Franklin Square, both with the contrast of the positive and negative photos, as well as with the photos from inauguration day.
Caple, Helen, and Monika Bednarek. “Rethinking News Values: What a Discursive Approach Can Tell Us about the Construction of News Discourse and News Photography.” Journalism, vol. 17, no. 4, 2 Feb. 2015, pp. 435–455., doi:10.1177/1464884914568078. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
National Park Service; (PEPC) Planning, Environment and Public Comment
Photo credits (order as depicted) :
Homeless: Vera Carothers
Inauguration 1: own work
Inauguration 2: own work