During his reign, Leopold II had enslaved much of the Congo in order to produce rubber to meet the demand of the newly developed Dunlop tire. Leopold’s overseers were particularly brutal, killing and mutilating even children.
In 1898, young missionary Alice Seely Harris arrived in the Congo Free State – as it was then known – to teach English to the native children. So appalled was she at the corruption and exploitation that she documented it in photographs. For three years, she amassed a collection of imagery that would change policy in the Congo forever. Her photographs were seen all over the world at speaking engagements and in publications. She was the first photographer to harness the power of mass media to promote change.
These days, anyone can produce images – good or bad – at any moment in time. I’ve written before about the misuse of the “instant gratification” nature of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in a piece called Not Exactly Cronkite. But there are those that get it right. They are mindful with their Instagram imagery and Facebook posts, focusing on positive change. However, one has to wonder where one group’s positive message becomes a battering ram for another group.
There are some who need the rush of extremes to feel alive: bungee and base jumpers, drag racers, sadomasochists and yes, even internet trolls. These days, everyone with a phone has a lexicon of images that comprises their visual language. It might be pictures of children, or dogs, or flowers, but it is there. It takes only a few minutes of scrolling to understand that language. I believe that some people, especially tweens and teens, don’t perceive the message they form with their images. Some people are very clear about their message and have little concern about how it is perceived. Because I am a person who prefers a positive environment, I tend to avoid people whose content is negative and critical.
When I began writing in a forum that could be seen by others, I had to decide what my messages would contain. Obviously, it is something that moves me, just as it is with most writers. But my images have, up to now, been my work. For the first time since I picked up a camera, I’m considering what comprises my own visual language. What have I said, and what do I intend to say moving forward? What is it about the world that captures my attention and what do I want to share? I’m not a narcissist, so it is difficult for me to perceive how anyone would want to see what I enjoy visually unless I make it visually rich.
I have spent a great deal of time shooting work that has the limited audience of portrait work. In fact, looking back, I’ve hardly shot anything artistic for myself. So, despite my years in the field, I have no visual language of my own. I have decided that it is time for me to speak with my own voice. What message do I want to send?