How can one image change common perception?

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Blog post by Dylan Yamada-Rice

Two members of the CSCY Visual research group, myself and Lisa Procter collaborated on a piece for a report about Twittter users responses to the image of the three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi after his body was found on a beach in Turkey. The piece we wrote was part of a report put together by the Visual Social Media Lab entitled ‘The Iconic Image on Social Media: a rapid research response to the death of Aylan Kurdi’.

We started out by writing:

“There is a long history of iconic graphic images of children in poverty, war and famine that have become accredited with changing widespread public opinion towards large-scale political events. The recent photograph of the refugee Aylan Kurdi lying dead at the edge of the sea is the most recent of such examples. In particular the dissemination of the photograph of Aylan on Twitter can be thought of as a kind of emotional politics (Ahmed, 2004). Specifically users’ emotions appear to have played an important role in contributing towards a collective political narrative that is displayed in the tweets they produced and shared. To unpack this notion further we first examine how some depictions of children have changed political history. This we argue occurs through the visual representation of material objects of childhood, which appear to be used to symbolise an idealised space of the child. The second part presents the findings of tweets that were analysed using Pulsar and the keywords ‘his shoes’. The findings show how Twitter users who mentioned Aylan’s shoes expressed narratives of helplessness and care in response to his image. Such narratives seem to use the materiality of his shoes to conjure up notions of childhood as an idealised period of time. In turn such discourse seems to have been used to express support for Syrian refugees more widely…..”

Our full piece and the entire report can be downloaded here.

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