When a confronting image can save a life

The old adage goes: a picture says a thousand words.

This photo of a young refugee boy forced many countries to address their refugee policies in relation to the Syrian situation in 2015. Picture: AP/Nilufer Demir

This photo of a young refugee boy forced many countries to address their refugee policies in relation to the Syrian situation in 2015. Picture: AP/Nilufer Demir

Sometimes an image or photo sends us a message that is loud and confronting.

It can offend, disgust and cause people to write or phone to complain to publishers.

These images can also be the catalyst needed to create change. The one image that can move through barriers that communities and individuals create in order to ignore the truth.

Back in 2015 a photo of a three-year-old boy (pictured) caused the world to grieve and many to question the censorship of news organisations.

Aylan Kurdi was a Syrian boy found dead on a Turkish beach. He became the face of the refugee crisis. The photo was a turning point for global action to help address the escalating crisis.

In 1993 South African photojournalist Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer Prize for his haunting and disturbing photo of a Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture.

The child was on the way to a food station. Carter later revealed that he shooed the vulture, but was unaware of the child’s fate.  That photo put the spotlight on the famine sweeping Africa.

During the Vietnam War Nick Ut snapped a photo as children ran screaming towards him after a plane had dropped napalm.

The image of the naked girl in the centre of the photo was published everywhere. In turn there were anti-war protests around the world.

This week the Heart Foundation has launched a campaign using images of internal organs. It’s similar to a practice used to curb smoking rates with graphic images on cigarette packets. They are designed to shock.

Road safety campaigns also follow a similar concept. It’s why there is an ongoing relationship between media and emergency services. Photos of a crash, which have also been used on billboards and television ads, are designed to make people reflect on their driving behaviour.

Back in 1989 the Transport Accident Commission launched the drink, drive – bloody idiot campaign.

It has since been modernised and tweaked, but the message remains. At the time it had impact due to the name-calling in the slogan.

We should all take the time to reflect on why an image or message offends us. Perhaps it’s the reality that is truly frightening.