- I want to examine the effect that photography as propaganda can have on a society. Photographs are the ultimate tools of manipulation because they are seen as facts/reality/truth. In reality, photographs are easily manipulated and can cause people to believe whatever they see, without considering what “lies beyond the frame.” Because of peoples’ tendencies to believe whatever is in a photograph, photography is often used in propaganda by governments in an attempt to sway the people in a certain direction. I will examine propaganda from Nazi Germany that was used to persuade Germans that Jews are inherently “bad” and are the cause of all their problems. Propaganda in Nazi Germany often involved unflattering photographs of Jews, causing people to view them in a negative light. Ultimately, photography played a huge role in turning Germany against the Jews. I will go on to discuss propaganda in democratic societies and how, although we may not consider it propaganda, photography has often been used as a means of persuasion in America. For example, during the great depression, the Farm Security Administration produced many photographs depicting the impact of the depression on rural America. The goal of these photos was to sway public opinion in favor of Roosevelt’s rural economic recovery program. Although the intentions of these photographs were good, they could be seen as propaganda because their point was to influence politics and the public opinions.
- Propaganda and censorship are both methods used by the government to control their people. In The Republic, Plato describes a society in which censorship of literature is used in order to shelter society from negative descriptions of the gods. However, he is also trying to form a utopia in which everyone is educated and has escalated from the “cave” that is naïveté. By including censorship in his government, isn’t Plato actually pushing society back into the cave? How are censorship and propaganda similar and what effects have they had when implemented in real-world societies? What makes photographs such a powerful tool in influencing people? Can propaganda be ethical?
- The use of photography in propaganda has been debated for a long time and many have questioned the ethics of using images to persuade a society. In the book of essays, On Photography, Susan Sontag argues that photography, in a way, has chained humanity down, creating a reality for us that may not actually be true. She argues that a camera is like a gun in that whoever holds it has complete control over the subject and the situation. Her overall thesis is that we are chained down by our assumption that everything we see in a photograph is true. This concept relates to propaganda throughout history, beginning with Nazi Germany. One example of propaganda in Nazi Germany is a book called The Eternal Jew, which contains unappealing and dehumanizing photos of Jews. Photos like these made Germans more comfortable with blaming and turning against Jews because they seemed less human. Another source I will use is an article called “The FSA photographs: Information or Propaganda?” by Chris Meyer. This article takes a look at the photographs used by the Farm Security Administration and discusses whether or not they should be considered propaganda. This can tie into my question of whether or not propaganda is always bad
- There is enough evidence to prove my points. There are many books and essays explaining how photographs can be deadly because people believe whatever they see. Furthermore, many people have written about the effects of photography in propaganda and how a society can be influenced through the use of photography. I will use a few primary sources, with pictures of influential propaganda and I will also use some secondary sources that argue what the effects of propaganda are. All of these books and journals are available in the library, but On Photography is checked out right now. It can be borrowed from another library though.
Chris Meyer. “The FSA Photographs: Information or Propaganda?” WR: Journal of the Arts & Sciences 1, no. 1. http://www.bu.edu/writingprogram/journal/past-issues/issue-1/the-fsa-photographs-information-or-propaganda/
- This article is helpful because it confronts my question of whether or not propaganda is always bad. This article examines the FSA photographs and how they influenced Americans. While the consequences of these photographs may have been beneficial, they were still aimed at manipulating the political views of Americans, and therefore they are propaganda. This article will help me discuss how photography in propaganda has also been prevalent in democratic societies, but perhaps in a different way than in authoritarian governments.
San Mateo County Community College District. “Persuasion, Propaganda, and Photography.” Films on Demand video, 27:00. 2001. http://envoy.dickinson.edu:4734/PortalViewVideo.aspx?xtid=30811
Sontag, Susan. On Photography. London: Penguin, 1997.
Morris, Errol. Believing is seeing : Observations on the Mysteries of Photography. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.
Welch, David. The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Bytwerk, Randall. “The Eternal Jew.” German Propaganda Archive. August 2004. http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/
- This website is helpful because it includes various examples of Nazi German propaganda that portrayed Jews as evil. These examples will be very useful because in order to fully understand the effect that propaganda had, people must see the actual propaganda itself. The pictures on this website will help to show how the Nazis attempted to portray the Jews as hideous, inhuman creatures.