Can a Photograph Change Minds?

This photo was taken by Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams on February 1, 1968 in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. It depicts the summary execution of Viet Cong Captain Nguyễn Văn Lém by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, a South Vietnamese brigadier general and police chief. The shocking photograph—in its brutal horror—helped galvanize the anti-war movement and the mounting sense of the war’s futility. (Adams won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot Photography for the image.)

I thought about sharing the 1972 photograph of Kim Phuc, the naked nine-year-old Vietnamese girl fleeing down a street after a napalm bomb was dropped on her village. Or the 1970 image at Kent State University of Mary Ann Vecchio, in horror and disbelief, kneeling next to a dead student, face-down, after he was killed by the Ohio National Guard. Or the image of a lone man blocking the path of Chinese tanks in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre in Beijing.

Can a photograph change minds? This question has been on my mind since last weekend’s massacre by AR-15 rifle during the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois. In an effort to protect the victims and their families and presumably minimize the public’s trauma, media outlets have typically chosen not to publish images of death’s toll—particularly given the devastating effects of these high-powered killing machines. But as the number of mass shootings (already 325 this year) continues to rise, is it time to change that policy? Is the sanitizing of the grisly reality not desensitizing a public that could be motivated to demand change?

This is a tough one. There’s no easy answer. I look forward to hearing what you think. As always, I ask you to be considerate in your responses to each other.


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