Images constantly surround us. We are bombarded by them, from the internet, the news, billboards, and our society’s obsession with selfies. There’s no escaping them. This may sound negative, but there are silver linings to this significant rise in images and photography. There is power found in them, from political activism to the preservation of memories. The images that hold this power can cut through the numbing assault of images we face everyday and teach us something new.
The images that shape us are the ones that tell the best stories. It isn’t true that an image is the equivalent of a thousand words, it is the equivalent of an indefinite amount of words. A thousand people could look at the same picture and feel a thousand different things, let alone trying to put these feelings into words. That is the beauty of images.
The freedom of expression is a beautiful feature of images, found especially in photography. Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard worried that, with the rise of photographic technology, the quality of the images will decrease.
With the daguerreotype, everyone will be able to have their portrait taken—formerly it was only the prominent—and at the same time everything is being done to make us all look exactly the same, so we shall only need one portrait.
He is right in some aspects, especially in regards to some selfies out there, however the quality of the images that do make it through shine even more brightly when compared to those poor ones. Once they do shine, they are able to stand out and grab attention in an oversaturated world of images.
A recent project that exemplifies this exquisitely is the recently published book, Xing. Pronounced as “sing”, it is a Mandarin word that has many definitions, including “to wake up”, “sexuality”, “to grow aware”, but the book’s publisher focuses on the meaning of “othering”. Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee is 23, born in Singapore and based in London, who was inspired by last year’s political uproar that includes Brexit and the US election result. She noticed an increase in hate crime and believed it was partially down to the misunderstanding of minority groups who were usually the target of such crime.
I saw an opportunity and a dire need to address the misconceptions of these ‘Othered’ groups through the language of photography.
Xing is a collection of images aimed at shattering stereotypes that hinder our world from progressing past our need to catalog and categorise. “The Asian woman resides in a polarity paradox: they are considered everything and nothing at once,” Lee explains. “She can take on the role of the subservient trophy wife, or the dragon mother, or the Lolita school girl. Asian women are looked upon as objects that can be molded or claimed at the hands of her beholder. With hardly any neutral ground that the Asian female can call her own, this is one of the most concerning things – defining what being an Asian female is in 2017.”
Not all of us are petite, slim, docile and submissive.
Lee’s book is just one tiny example of the power photography holds. It can change people’s perspective and show them things in certain lights that they would never have before considered. It can connect people through opening their eyes to new modes of thinking with a medium that is a universal language. Do not be so quick to dismiss an image that makes you uncomfortable. Question why it does. You may be surprised by your answer.
Photography Tammy Volpe
Featured image from a project turning water tanks into works of art. Check it out.