Even as the media environment has changed dramatically in recent years, one thing at least remains true: photographs are everywhere. From professional news photos to smartphone selfies, images have become part of the fabric of modern life. And that may be the problem. Even as photography bears witness, it provokes anxieties about fraudulent representation; even as it evokes compassion, it prompts anxieties about excessive exposure. Parents and pundits alike worry about the unprecedented media saturation that transforms society into an image world. And yet a great news photo can still stop us in our tracks, and the ever-expanding photographic archive documents an era of continuous change.
By confronting these conflicted reactions to photography, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites make the case for a fundamental shift in understanding photography and public culture. In place of suspicions about the medium’s capacity for distraction, deception, and manipulation, they suggest how it can provide resources for democratic communication and thoughtful reflection about contemporary social problems.
The key to living well in the image world is to unlock photography from viewing habits that inhibit robust civic spectatorship. Through insightful interpretations of dozens of news images, The Public Image reveals how the artistry of the still image can inform, challenge, and guide reflection regarding endemic violence, environmental degradation, income inequity, and other chronic problems that will define the twenty-first century.
By shifting from conventional suspicions to a renewed encounter with the image, we are challenged to see more deeply on behalf of a richer life for all, and to acknowledge our obligations as spectators who are, crucially, also citizens.