The Effects of Imagery on the Human Psyche

Industry Perspective

The Effects of Imagery on the Human Psyche

by Ron Leach

With the tragic social and environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico we are once again reminded of the profound power of photography to rouse support for social causes like the environment, and motivate people to respond to disasters—be they man-made or acts of God.

As millions of gallons of oil have spewed from the Deepwater Horizon, we have witnessed horrific images of oil-soaked birds, desecrated marshes, dead sea turtles and other marine animals, live underwater footage of the belching well, and tragic NASA satellite photos of our oil-drenched shorelines. Who among us can deny that these images will have a long-term effect on our national psyche and change worldwide attitudes on offshore drilling?

Throughout history the ability to “conquer” the oceans has been a symbol of a nation’s success, while a concern about exploiting the sea is a much more recent notion. Images of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska began to raise awareness about the fragility of our oceans, and this accident had a significant impact on environmental attitudes. But for many people Alaska was a faraway place that was easy to ignore, and environmental concerns gradually gave way to the fervor to “drill baby drill.”

Thanks to the proximity of the Gulf and the abundance of documentary photography from journalists, concerned citizens and tireless cleanup workers, the current disaster is far more difficult to dismiss. A recent Quinnipiac survey, for example, indicates that Floridians have dramatically changed their attitudes on offshore drilling. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed between June 1–7 said they now oppose drilling; a large swing from an April 19 poll when 66 percent of the respondents supported drilling.

One endearing trait of Americans is their great capacity to forgive and forget. In this case, while forgiveness is fine, let’s hope the poignant images of the Gulf make forgetting much more difficult.