The shots of entire towns being uprooted and debris moving along city streets and farm fields like a massive wall of ooze in the wake of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami are forever seared in my mind. The powerful images drew millions of eyes to their TV and computer screens in the weeks since the double disaster leveled northeast Japan. In fact, CNN recently reported that its Japan coverage gained the highest viewership the cable network has seen since President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.
Multiple villages moved by a surge of sea water, residents running for their lives to higher ground, and now, the digging of mass graves to bury the tens of thousands of innocent lives whose journey on earth ended in the blink of an eye. These are just some of the unforgettable images that are coming out of Japan thanks to amateur and professional photographers.
In the last century, images shot by professional and citizen photojournalists have helped shape the way the public views major events, such as the lynching of young blacks in 1930, the Soweto Uprising, Kent State shootings, Tiananmen Square, the bombing of Hiroshima, D-Day on Omaha Beach and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We’ve reached a point in society where we rely on photography and videography to enhance news stories.
Without pictures studies find that viewers struggle to relate to certain situations. This is why the work of photojournalists is so important. Photojournalists employed by major news agencies risk injury to document current events, from wars in third world countries to the war on AIDS. Viewers are able to get a glimpse of what is going on in places they would never consider visiting if it were not for photojournalists. What they document through their lens makes us more aware of society’s ills and what is transpiring around the world.