A photograph of a dead boy, face down, lifeless on the edge of the surf on a beach*. An image that has circulated the globe.
This image has, in the last few days, changed the policy of Her Majesty’s Government. The newspapers immediately called on the Prime Minister to show more compassion, more humanity. The Government, it is said, has been shamed by the image into altering its Syrian immigration policy. President Hollande has declared that the photograph has made a call upon Europe’s conscience. If rhetoric is the art of persuasion, then this image proves that photographs can be a type of rhetoric. It is, in this instance, a powerful but problematic form of rhetoric. This photograph has for the moment de-politicised the cause of the movement of refugees across national borders. Humanity, shame, conscience, compassion – this picture has instead raised what should be political to the level of the human condition. It accuses nobody and everybody. We are required to respond to the situation not politically but emotionally. By demanding a powerful emotional response this photograph decreases our understanding of the cause of the problem. Continue reading