“A picture is worth a thousand words”, as the saying so often goes. Today, we live in an extra-visual society; in the digital age, we are flooded with images across social platforms and hero images bring stories to life in the mainstream media.
Many believe that an image conveys more meaning and essence to the reader than the description itself and would argue that a news story is not complete without ‘a look’ into the scene at hand. We know when pitching to media the persuasive power of an image. When building digital content and tapping into cultural trends, it is undoubtedly the visual that first draws the eye.
As Coronavirus continues to dominate headlines around the world, impactful images have gone viral –showing both the devastating effects as well as pure moments of joy and connection between people who often barely know one another. But when we look back at the pictures from the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, what will we take away?
Initial Viewpoint: All Eyes on China
When the outbreak began in December 2019 in a wet market in Wuhan, there was international pick up of the new virus around the world. A small story here and there discussing the “flu-like” outbreak in a small region in a country many miles from the UK. But as images poured out of China of medical professionals in full-body hazmat suits, patients being wheeled away in sealed chambers, and mass mask-wearing, the news exploded. Images of China’s lockdown and the accelerated building of a Wuhan hospital shocked people around the world, demonstrating how seriously the government was taking this outbreak. The media praised China for its quick and organised response but, in many ways, the media reaction was detached as the UK had never had to deal with the effects of the SARS outbreak.
Repeating Imagery: A European Crisis
The accelerated spread first through Italy and then the rest of mainland Europe sent shockwaves through the media in the UK. Ominous and foreboding images, like those from China, of people being taken into intensive care by masked paramedics were accompanied by ever growing real-time counters showing death and infection tolls. A similar story seemed to be taking hold of each European nation, with the US starting to follow suit. Images of arenas and conferences centres being converted into mass hospitals started to appear, spreading panic around the nation. Pictures of military vehicles and ships in our everyday setting provided an unfamiliar world for the viewer to look into, something new to many across the western world and akin to wartime.
There was a surge in panic driven imagery, queues of people miles long waiting to get in to shops. Empty shelves where customers have stripped every item. In some ways, these images showcased the selfishness of individuals and our ability as humans to think only of our own immediate needs. We saw the eruption of heart-breaking images of the elderly staring at empty shelves or NHS staff crying at the lack of food left for them. We also saw the sheer determination, hard work and exhaustion of the doctors and nurses tackling this disease on the front line, and the media began shining a light on the local heroes around the world.
A Unique Site: Empty Tourist Attractions
Although mass levels of sickness and death were a focus of the media there also started to appear some beauty. Sites previously swarming with tourists, were left empty and untouched for the first time in many years. Pictures of notable cathedrals, gallery’s, churches and landmarks deprived of human existence spread around the world. In some ways, these pictures caused an eerie feeling of unease for the viewer, but also for the first time in a long time they allowed us to view these sites completely undisturbed.
Spreading Positivity: Communities from Around the World
As people around the world were forced inside, we began to see images of people connecting in new and interesting ways. When Boris asked families to refrain from spending Mother’s Day with loved ones, images of children seeing parents or grandparents through windows or at two-meter distances emerged. We saw heart-warming images of elderly couples spending their anniversaries dinners together, but with window between them for example, as we began to adjust to this new version of normal.
Never has video call or the internet been so important to driving a sense of connection for people around the world. Images of children attending school remotely, taking dance lessons and even PE classes have showcased the numerous ways to stay engaged. Groups have set up virtual choirs and book clubs, allowing peeople to still feel a sense of community even when not meeting face to face. We have seen live streamed weddings, with people from around the world tuning in to watch complete strangers get married and celebrate with them. The now legendary Tom Moore has demonstrated that your garden’s size is irrelevant, as he live-streamed a marathon in his 6 meter-long garden. Meanwhile, musicians performed virtual concerts from their own home. People have used this time to connect like never before, whether it is by spending more time talking to people they know or by building a greater sense of community both near and afar.
Some of the most important images that have come out of this crisis have not been those of sickness and death, but those that showcased humanity’s ability to stay connected and show support. Across the world we are seeing the true value key workers have for our countries. Images of communities and streets coming together to clap for health workers does more than show our support, but in many cases it strengthens the communities around us. These images of community are the ones we should remember, that showcase both our resilience and kindness.