Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Media and Publishing Issues: Power of the Photograph

In today’s world of digital cameras and hand held video cameras, taking photographs have evolved from mere keepsakes in the past to a creative form of expression that is being actively practiced by professional as well as amateur photographers around the world. Shepard (1967) states that with pictures the message is of better recollection; as memory for pictures tends to be better than memory for words alone; and with the rapid share feature of photo blogging facilities available to users today photo galleries have become the trend of documenting events and memories.

Following the rehabilitation of the catastrophic war that shelled Croatian port city of Dubrovnik back in the early 1990s; a photography gallery in the city’s centre known as The War Photo Limited Gallery ( 2008), showcases graphic and heart wrenching photographs of the war. Dedicated exclusively to the horrors of the war, this exhibition preserves the memories of the painful struggles endured by the people during that difficult time. Images displayed in the gallery are unlikely to be found in mainstream newspapers due to its graphic and vivid nature; as newspaper editors often select photos that do not depict such traits in order to cater to their target audience (Heizman 2007)

Caption: The pain of a child during war (

Caption: An armed soldier during war (

Case Study in Malaysian Context: Cow-Head Protest Fiasco
Earlier this year, Malaysians saw a vicious racial controversy caused by an unethical protest on the construction of a Hindu temple; which resulted in the parading of a severed cow’s head. The issue was downplayed by the mainstream media (local newspapers) due to its explicit nature and the risk of igniting racial tension among the multi cultural society, but was actively covered on independent online news portals such as Malaysian Insider.
Caption: Protestors stepping on severed cow's head (
Caption: Protestor parading severed cow head and protest sign (

These visuals portray the profound message that has been intelligently captured by the photographer and enhances its value as an issue that has caused colossal impact on the Malaysian community and left a mark in the country’s history. However, the question remains if such negative occurrences should be in continuous coverage; as do people really want to remember nightmares.

In my opinion, document designers must be careful and sensitive when selecting visuals, as it should not cause adverse effects on the community, due to Malaysia’s multi-racial and cultural society. As the famous saying goes “a picture paints a thousand words”; ensure that it imparts the right story to the right audience.

Heizman, S 2007, Media Report, ABC Radio National , Australia, viewed 18 November 2009, <>

Kamal, S 2009, ‘Protestors threaten bloodshed over Hindu temple’, Malaysian Insider, viewed 18 November 2009, <>

Shepard, RN 1967, ‘Recognition memory for words, sentences, and pictures’, J Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, no. 6, pp.156–163.

Travel Tip: War in Pictures 2008, cosmotourist, viewed 18 November 2009, <>

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