Sunday, 26 October 2008

The history of the photo opportunity

A hundred years ago loyalist photographers in Northern Ireland took pictures at a well-appointed UVF hospital.
The message was clear. We are ready for a bloody struggle against home rule.
So begins both this excellent photographic exhibition and the century of spin it documents.
It turns out that Shackelton - the polar explorer - was a Beckhamesque self-publicist who financed his trips to the frozen wastes with product placement.
Here he is, pictured, sitting on a big baked beans tin in the Antarctic, feeding Golden Syrup to penguins, and dressed head-to-toe in Burberry in 1910.
Using examples from Northern Ireland, the UK, and the United States, viewers are taken through the history of the PR picture.
Al Jolson supporting Coolidge, the United Fruit Company exaggerating communist influence in Guatemala, and an elephant signing a Hollywood contract.
By 1939 the image was enough to create the story on its own.
The American radio host who took a bull into a china shop, and hid a needle in a haystack was the master.
Throughout The Troubles all sides exploited the photo opportunity in the battle for hearts and minds.
The most chilling picture is from 1970. It shows two little boys who won a Belfast Telegraph competition to go on patrol in the city with the British army.
There they are - with two real squaddies - in their replica unifroms and carrying replica guns.
Like African boy soldiers on the streets of Britain. Collateral damage in a propaganda war.
A Century of Spin is at the Belfast Exposed gallery, Donegall Street, until November 28. Admission is free.

3 comments:

Renegade Eye said...

That really sounds great.

Today everyone takes pix with their cellphones. I think that is creating a new aesthetic. See MySpace.

Blogrolling was hacked, and it's being repaired now. When it's fixed, I'll link to your blog. I've been keeping a list.

roman said...

Pictures can be very powerful. The impressions left are much more convincing than mere words.

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