We find purposeful photography in those images whose ultimate goal is the common good; either as a means of complaint or to promote awareness of a cause requiring visibility. Beyond the merely aesthetic, technical or artistic, it is photography as an agent of social change. It is photography at service.
In 1968 Cornell Capa (former president of the Magnum Agency, founder of ICP and brother of Frank Capa) produced the exhibition and book "The Concerned Photographer." Capa was the first to use the term and referred to that which "produces images in which genuine human feeling predominates over commercial cynicism and disinterested formalism." The tradition of social consciousness in photojournalism reached its peak in the late 1960s, during the civil rights and the Vietnam War era. Cornell said the "concerned photographer considers unacceptable most of what is happening, and tries to change it. Our purpose is simply to let the world know why it is unacceptable.”
As photographers we are storytellers. Today, when millions of people have a photographic device and connectivity invades us, we can see hundreds of images per minute of the most unexpected corners of the planet. Distances have been shortened. The far away is not so far. A click or an airplane can take you almost anywhere. More than ever in history, we are witnessing how images can “go viral” and change specific situations. This reality should remind us and make us aware of how truly powerful the photograph can be.
Wanting to change the world as Capa did is indeed pretentious, but any contribution we can make, we should make. There is always something we can give (as in life), and if we are many we can make a big difference. At the start of World War II Henri Cartier-Bresson said: "The world is falling apart and people like Adam and Weston photograph stones." I believe in learning and each person’s personal work within the infinite realm of photography. Also in the personal embodiment that is sharing a photo of any kind and posting it for likes on Facebook, Instagram or other networks. It's great, it is part of the search. But please also move beyond what we usually do and go try to do something for others.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but if it is a picture with purpose, no words are enough.