The photo of Omran Daqneesh, the five year old boy pulled out of rubble in Aleppo in Syria, was on the front page of every newspaper in Europe. The baffled look of a child, who was just bombed by people he never would even know, instantly symbolizing the story of every child who is suffering under this brutal Russian bombardment, in this animalistic Syrian civil war, currently in its fifth year. The last time a photo had a similar effect was when Aylan Kurdi was drowned while fleeing to Europe from Turkey with people smugglers and the reaction this time was also similar. It was similar when the French kid with her baby doll was murdered by a rampaging terrorist truck driver in Nice. The reactions to these photos are always predictable, cries for solidarity, donations to charity and calls to “do something”.
Photographs are intensely powerful medium of message. Devoid of broader context and compartmentalized in a visual frame, it gives power and meaning and substance, and simplifies the most complex situations in a binary of good or bad. It also changes meaning, sometimes imposing one where none exists. Perhaps most importantly, it can portray a strong appeal to the highly emotive limbic system of the brain. It clouds rationality.