In today’s world of Internet publishing and streaming media, photographers are increasingly expected to practice multiple disciplines — namely, to provide both still and moving images from an event. Of course, I understand the desire for video, and I appreciate that it has its place.
But nothing can replace the power of a well-executed still shot.
We live in a period that is saturated with imagery. When I think of the images that are seared in my memory, however, almost all of them are individual moments captured in time.
Did you know that many of the most famous images in the history of photography had video counterparts? The videos in many cases still exist, but have been forgotten over the years.
Images of War
Take Iwo Jima, for instance. Joe Rosenthal’s immortal 1945 image of four U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raising the flag on Mount Suribachi has inspired war bond drives, memorials — and movies, from “Sands of Iwo Jima” to “Flags of Our Fathers.”
But what has become of the video of the event? Well, you can still find it on YouTube, but that’s about the extent of its legacy.
That’s not the only example. During the Vietnam War, this image by Eddie Adams, showing Lt. Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a prisoner in the street, symbolized the chaos and brutality of war.
The video of the execution, while brutal, did not embed itself into the public consciousness in the same way.
As Susan Moeller, author of Shooting War, has said of Adams’ image:
It was an image that was filmed by a TV camera crew, by one of the network crews, and there was a slice of that footage that appeared on the news that evening. But the still images lingered in the memory … they were seared into people’s brains in a way that television just couldn’t be.
Nick Ut’s photograph of a little girl, naked and crying as she runs from her village after a napalm strike, is another image from Vietnam that lingers in our collective memories.
The video of the event, while tragic, does not.
Frozen in Time
In these cases, as with so many others, the still images take fleeting moments and give them a sense of permanence and meaning.
On video, they seem like fleeting moments in the endless parade of fleeting moments we are exposed to every day.
Video can provide more information about an event, in the form of sound and motion. It can provide a better sense of “being there,” too.
But the power of a moment frozen in time is lost — and that remains the power of the still image.