Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Using Photography in Activism
By Claire Larson

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin

Although you would be hard pressed to find someone that does not want to help end human trafficking, when photography is mentioned as a method to help many people are skeptical. After deciding to become a social worker, I have been studying human trafficking. I am appalled at how often it happens and how close it happens. Because of this, I want to try and educate people how they can help people who have been trafficked. This article is going to explore why photography can be used as a means to increase activism and decrease slacktivism.

Easily shared through social media

It is incredibly easy to spread media through social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Photos are no different. In simple clicks, a photo of a modern slave can be shared. Compared to the past, when activists had to spread the word about their issues through protests, marches, and even going door to door, social media allows issues to be spread faster and more efficiently. Photos are now able to go from one side of the world to the other in less than a second. Human trafficking exists all over the world. Because photos are so widespread, they can reach out to people who are in a position to stop human trafficking. I created a Pinterest board to try and spread awareness about human trafficking. It was incredibly simple to do, and has already gained some modest attention.

Personal touch and relatability

Photographs illicit emotions that words sometimes fail to bring. Skimming has become a habit of our times, but a photo forces you to see what is going on. It gives human trafficking a face, a shape, and a life. It becomes more real, and therefore, more important. In her book, Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change, Michelle Bogre discusses how an activist photographer is an engaged citizen with a camera. These photographers capture injustice on film, and then publicize it to show what needs to be corrected (Borge). A photographer that excelled at capturing injustice would be Larry Towell. Towell has captured events such as hurricane Katrina and places such as Palestine and El Salvador. Although he has not personally documented human trafficking, his photos are a great example of how photos can connect the viewer to the issue in a personal way. 

Historical Precedence

The first photograph
Using photography as a means of change is not a new concept. Photography was invented in 1827 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. This photograph pictured above took eight hours to process. Today, it takes seconds to take and post a picture. During the Civil War, photographs were taken of the battlefields and published. This changed the way the public perceived the war by "turning people removed from the fighting into eye witnesses of the carnage"   This is why photography can be so effective at causing people to become activists. 
Photo of dead soldiers after a battle


Unfortunately, with all of the advances that technology has brought to photography and activism, it has also brought ways that stops change in its tracks. Slacktivism is a new term that is defined as such: actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g., signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website.
In their study "Does Slacktivism Hurt Activism?: The Effects of Moral Balancing and Consistency in Online Activism" Dr Yu-Hao Lee and Dr Gary Hsieh from Michigan State University found that people who performed short actions were less likely to do anything else about the issue. I reached out to Dr Hsieh and asked whether he thought having the issues presented in an artistic form would have changed people's participation. His response was that it depended on how the art was presented. He presented two sides. The first was if an issue was presented in an artistic format, it could make it fun and people could want to participate to enjoy the experience. The second was that it could possibly undermine the issue because the art would make it appear to be less serious. Keeping his remarks in mind, we can use photography to lessen slacktivism. When pictures of human trafficking are presented in a way that makes people want to be involved, and are serious, it can cause many people to become involved with fighting human trafficking.

Why does this matter?

If you are still reading to this point you may be wondering why human trafficking should matter to you at all. Human trafficking happens closer to us than we might think. Because human trafficking is such a global problem, readers in the United States also have human trafficking happen near them. It is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually. According to the nonprofit group, Shared Hope, domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST), which is the commercial sexual exploitation of children through buying, selling, or trading their sexual services, is happening in the United States. Photography can be used to stop this problem in your backyard. This is a personal problem for everyone. 

Pick up the camera

Now that you know that photography can make a difference, it is time to do something about it. Take a camera, a smart phone, anything and pay attention. When you see things, document it and then share your work. If you can't personally document thing, go ahead and use social media to share causes that you are passionate about. You might not know if your picture will move someone into action, but what if it did? Pick up the camera and help stop human trafficking. 

To find ways that you can make a difference right now, visit to find projects you can start on right away. If you or someone you know needs help or needs to report human trafficking, call the national hotline number 1(888) 373-7888 

Works Cited
Bogre, Michelle. Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change. Amsterdam: Focal, 2012. Print.

"The Impact of Civil War Photos on the Public." Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, n.d. Web. 13 June 2016. 

Hands, Joss. @ Is for Activism: Dissent, Resistance and Rebellion in a Digital Culture. London: Pluto, 2011. Print. 

Shelley, Louise I. Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print. 


  1. Your video and your introductory paragraph grabbed my attention, and then your post wouldn't let go. You have a fantastic grasp on digital rhetoric. I was thoroughly impressed by your post and the fluidity with which you incorporated all of the elements and then supported a topic about which you were passionate.

    I didn't have time to read the rest of the post after your introduction, but I want to, which means that you did a fantastic job. I will have to use in the future for my videos.

  2. Photography is definitely a powerful tool for making things real to those who are not directly affected. I like the historical context.

  3. Photography is definitely a powerful tool for making things real to those who are not directly affected. I like the historical context.