Why “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words” Isn’t a Cliche

In our society, we are obsessed with statistics. That’s why we’re constantly being bombarded with facts and figures: “There are 43.3 million immigrants in the U.S.,” “84,994 refugees were admitted into the U.S. in 2016,” “There were 462,463 removals and returns in 2015,” etc. etc. (https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states-2)

But in obsessing over these numbers, we miss something bigger: the experiences of the people behind those numbers. Photojournalists Griselda San Martin and Jacobia Dahm seek to bring those people into the light with their work.

Borders and Belonging

I was able to attend the talk and exhibition, “Borders and Belonging“, at Haverford College, where Jacobia and Griselda shared their work and what it means to them.

The photojournalists talked about how they hoped that their work would tell you something that you didn’t know or that you didn’t know in that way. They hoped to change the dominant narrative of immigrants and refugees. By showing the faces and emotions of immigrants and refugees, they’re giving you the context that numbers are missing.

A good picture will always tell you something that you didn’t know” -Jacobia Dahm

Jacobia focuses her work on Syrian refugees and their migration to Germany, a country that is very divided in whether refugees should be welcomed with open arms or turned away to fend for themselves. Griselda focuses her work on both the lived experiences on the Mexican border and the lives of Mexican immigrants in an ethnic enclave in New York.

Credit: Griselda San Martin

Credit: Griselda San Martin

Besides being visually stunning, their work has the power to tell stories. Jacobia also mentioned that her photographs always come with a small text to provide context. She talked a bit about the power in the collaboration of both visuals and text to tell a different story. Something really important about photojournalism is that the photographers develop relationships with the people that they photograph. The ethics of photography can sometimes be difficult to navigate, but being able to develop a relationship with the people who’s stories you’re attempting to tell and getting their verbal consent helps a great deal, I think.

This exhibition prompted me to look back at my experiences from abroad. Although I wasn’t able to develop relationships with people like photojournalists do, I did take a few pictures (while making sure I didn’t take photos of faces without consent). Below I have two photos that I took while abroad that bring back powerful memories. I’ve attached a short description of what story the photo tells.

I took this photograph in New Delhi right before I entered a shrine that we were visiting for our case study. This area is full of people who’s bodies were believed to have been taken over by evil spirits. Because of ethical reasons, I didn’t take any photos showing the faces or behaviors of these women. This is one of my few photos from this day.

I took this photo at a rehabilitation center that we visited in Sao Paulo. One of the patients in the waiting room had a guitar and was playing music. We all ended up singing along while he played guitar and waited for his medical services.

 

I think what’s so powerful about pictures is that they provide a sense of emotion and connection that numbers, even words sometimes, miss. I’ve always been a been a big fan of the way that artists can tie their art to social and political meaning. I’m grateful that I was able to see the works of Jacobia and Griselda as well as listen to how they make meaning of it. Cheers to resistance and advocacy through creative outlets!

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