November 23, 2009

The Sociological Significance of Pictures

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

Although I’m not as into it now, I used to love photography…back in the days when we all used film I toted my heavy 35mm camera around. Now everyone—or so it seems—has a digital camera and/or one on their cell phone.

When I was very young my father was a photographer and he taught my brother the trade when he was in his late teens. As my brother developed a photography business I became his assistant—fetching his bag and other such glamorous activities. Along the way, I picked up an interest in photography.

I would take tons and tons of pictures at every event, outing, and holiday trip. After grappling with storing all the pictures, I started to ask myself how many pictures of any one event I really needed. Even 155 pictures of my trip to Yosemite National Park does not change the fact that it is in the past and sometimes enjoying myself rather that shooting pictures has made for better memories.

When I was almost 18, I went to my father’s funeral. It was probably only the second I had attended so I didn’t really know what was done at funerals. Just before leaving our grandmother’s home for the funeral, somehow I got a hold of my brother’s camera. I wasn’t sure what I would do with the camera; what would be an appropriate picture to take given the occasion? I knew that I would not take pictures of my father’s lifeless body. Not only did I consider that that morbid but I refused to even view my father’s body, let alone take a picture of him.

I don’t remember taking any of them, but all these years later I have pictures from my father’s funeral. And I’m glad that I do. They remind me of the early impact of our father’s death on me and my siblings. And the pictures remind me of who attended the funeral. I have forgotten most of the people who were there that day who were not photographed.

Recently I attended an “un-birthday party” in Tampa, an event held to honor the 153 children in this county who did not live to their first birthdays in 2007. Particularly striking was a presentation from a photographer from the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep organization. The organization exists to take pictures of babies of who have died at birth or who are expected to die soon after. Professional photographers donate their time and the photographs are free for the parents. As the organization’s website points out, taking a picture of such a baby is not necessarily on the minds of grieving parents. (Click here to see a Los Angeles Times story about bereavement photos).


But as you can imagine, a picture of a baby who only lives for a few hours, days, or months can be of tremendous value to many parents. Not so long ago, many hospitals did not allow or encourage parents to see these babies. Today, parents are encouraged to name their babies, to hold them—acknowledge their lives, however short -–as a way to help cope with their grief. With the professional quality pictures they receive from this organization, parents are granted an important memento that most new parents have or expect—wonderful pictures of their newborn.

Photographs have meanings attached to them. For parents who have lost a baby, a Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep photograph underscores the fact that they did have a baby—for however short a period. The pictures serve as proof that their child existed; it is documentation that this child lived.

Indeed, a photographic image is worth a thousand words. Lately we’ve witnessed dust-ups over news organizations use of the wrong picture to illustrate a story. In an apparent effort to impress us with the size of a “tea party” in Washington protesting President Obama’s health care plan, several websites showed a picture that turned out to be 10 years old. The 10-year-old picture shows an enormous crowd that stretches for blocks, and that was described as being up to 2 million people. It should not surprise you that some conservative blogs reported this high number while mainstream news organizations said that the crowd was in the thousands. At issue here was the ability to say that a particularly high level of discontent exists among “the people”.

We shape pictures—by deciding what pictures we take and how we take them—but pictures also shape our worlds—whether in telling us how big a crowd is, reminding us of a poignant time, or providing tangible proof of a loved one’s life. Societal context and our own personal context shape how we think about these images.


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I agree that pictures capture a moment in life that is a moment that people want to remember forever. All moments in life are important, but not all are special. Remembering a child who died with capturing moments of when they are alive can help with the grieving process. Photography is a very important part of capturing life's moments to look back on for years to come.

I think pictures are wonderful! I love to take pictures of different experiences that I have so that I can look back and remember all the fun times. For example I worked at a summer camp, and when I got home I printed out some of the pictures I took and made a scrapbook to help me remember all of the good times I had at the camp.

I also agree that pictures are very important in capturing life. If a child, parent, or other loved one dies, it is nice to have a picture of them to remember them by.

Although i hardly ever take pictures i do believe they serve a very special purpose in society today. My parents still flip through there albums of pictures from when they were younger and it helps them to recall past experiences. Today facebook is littered with millions of pictures members post to show people what a good time they were having at a party, wedding, or school. Pictures serve as a great tools for remembrence.

I think pictures are a very important part of life. They are triggers to memories that we sometimes repress, or alter in our mind. They are not only clear, distinct proof that an event happened, but they also show us how much we have changed; both as a society and as an individual.

I agree that pictures have meanings that we attach to them. I also believe that even though we cannot touch what we see in these images it makes things seem more real. Just like with the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep photographs. It is proof of what once was, no matter how fleeting an event. In the news we hear of death and destruction constantly. It is not until a picture of the body or the desisted is shown though that we begin to react. Things are ever changing and nothing is permanent, yet pictures capture a moment that might was guaranteed to be lost. For society in general they function as a way of cataloging the past. For individuals, sometimes no matter how old the photograph it still feels like yesterday.

Yes. I totally agree. As you said, pictures remind us of certain people's existence which also gives us memories of the particular situation. I personally believe that pictures are destined to be of good use in the future. People take pictures of babies so that they may remember how these babies actually looked for future reference. As, the author stated "the pictures of the funeral reminded her of who was there" which is why we take many pictures at events. We wish to be reminded of the event as well as who attended, where it was located etc. Of course pictures have no significance until time passes because they serve as memories. How can they possibly serve as memories if you haven't given yourself time to forget?

I agree of not taking pictures of a dead body of a person. I do not care how good you are on photography. We still have to pay a respect to our love ones.

There is a saying that everyone knows which is a picture is worth a thousand words and many of us take photos for that purpose i believe. Rather we take pictures at weddings, funerals, or birthing s these are moments we don't want to forget. When you look back at the pictures years later they always seem to bring you back to the time of the memory with all emotions included. That's what i believe anyway.

Photography has become a passion of mine, and I usually carry my digital camera with me most of the time. I love capturing moments that ordinarily would be forgotten or distorted in the future, especially time I spend with my family. I believe it is very important to document important moments in your life, and for these parents the birth of their child is one of them, even if their life was lost quickly. For some it may be strange and morbid, but when something like this happens the parents want to hold on to anything they can of this child, and that is what the pictures do. It helps them heal their loss, and accounts an event they proves they are able to stand up and keep moving forward.

Pictures are the best way to capture the memories that go by so fast. I know that I keep pictures of my childhood close to my heart of grandparents that have passed. Without these pictures it would be hard for me to remember because I was so young. The Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photography is beautiful. I think it is great that if parents want to keep these memories they have the option to do that. I think it is important to be able to hold still frames of times in your hands as a picture to accompany the memories you have.

I thought this article was incredibly sweet and eye opening. It is amazing what a picture can do. When the author was describing her father's funeral and the pictures she took of those who attended and those who did not, I totally understood how she forgot about the people who were not there. A picture is like a memory and it brings back memories. It was also sweet about the organization she was describing about the children who did not make it to their first birthdays. With pictures taken of them, those parents will never forget their child's faces and can always cherish the pictures.This was a lovely article.

I agree with Francesca. I think that this article is very caring and thoughtful and sweet. She uses a lot of describing words that just puts you right there in the scene. I also agree with her when she says that a picture is like a memory and it brings back a lot of memories. That is very very true. I have tons of picture and when i look at them it only brings me back in that time. All all i really enjoyed this article and it really was touching. It made me think back onto all the times that I have had with my family.

I believe that pictures are a very effective way to capture moments in time. Pictures give us the ability to go back in time and relive moments that we can never physically go back to. This article is very compeling to me especially having lost my neice at only 10 months. The photos I have of her remind me how happy she was and how happy I know she is now. So, I completely understand thos parents who just want to see their child and in many ways the pictures may help them appreciate life itself.

Picture's are very important and extremely effective. I believe it is also important to look at the advancement in technology such as advanced cameras built into phones, and the way how quickly we can share them with devicees like picture text and facebook. Photos do capture a thousand words, and picturs of children that only lived short lives can always be a reminder.

I agree. I think that pictures are one of the main reasons we have memories today. It is also meaningful to go through old pictures with family and friend and remember those special times. Photographs are important to our lives and create memories.

I agree that pictures are important in today’s society. Being able to capture a moment and have that photograph forever is taken advantage sometimes. The photographers who dedicate their time and talent to the parents of the sick children are giving a wonderful gift because being able to see their baby in a photograph is a nice remembrance of their child.

I can't imagine what I would do without my camera. I have so many scrapbooks full of pictures from random events that, without the pictures, I would have forgotten about. So many memories are contained in those pictures. For instance, I don't remember my grandpa. He died when I was really little, but I know what he looked like, and I know that I met him, because we have pictures of him. And early holidays and birthdays are always interesting pictures to look at. Then there are the pictures from recent years. I'm a freshman in college this year, and last year I didn't go anywhere without my camera. And I'm glad I didn't. I have so many pictures of my friends and I just being our goofy selves - things that aren't often caught on camera - and having a good time. I shudder to think about the fact that, without those pictures, there's a very good chance that I would forget most of the events. So, I definitely have to agree that pictures are wonderful things to have.

This blog really tugged my heart strings. It kind of reminded me when I was younger and when I was vacationing with my family, my dad would take SO many pictures. My sister and I would complain and ask why he takes so many pictures. He simply answered and said "Pictures never fade and they last forever, I want you both to remember how much fun we always have as a family." After he said that, my sister and I still never really understood until we became a little older. Now that we are older, we look back on the pictures and say, oh my gosh remember how much fun we had? Pictures tell stories, and last forever so you can always retell your stories, good or bad. Which is why I always carry a camera on me in my purse, to take pictures of anything that could be significant in the futre...I recommend everyone to try it.

Pictures are just really nice to go back to and remember all the memories. And I really like the idea of the Lay Me Down To Sleep organization, it definitely makes a lot of sense to do what they are doing. While watching the video above, I got a little teary eyed. I agree, the organization is a great way for grieving parents to deal with their baby's death.

May God Bless the parents whom children or babies have passed away, stay strong. XOX0

This blog really tugged my heart strings. It kind of reminded me when I was younger and when I was vacationing with my family, my dad would take SO many pictures. My sister and I would complain and ask why he takes so many pictures. He simply answered and said "Pictures never fade and they last forever, I want you both to remember how much fun we always have as a family." After he said that, my sister and I still never really understood until we became a little older. Now that we are older, we look back on the pictures and say, oh my gosh remember how much fun we had? Pictures tell stories, and last forever so you can always retell your stories, good or bad. Which is why I always carry a camera on me in my purse, to take pictures of anything that could be significant in the futre...I recommend everyone to try it.

Pictures are just really nice to go back to and remember all the memories. And I really like the idea of the Lay Me Down To Sleep organization, it definitely makes a lot of sense to do what they are doing. While watching the video above, I got a little teary eyed. I agree, the organization is a great way for grieving parents to deal with their baby's death.

May God Bless the parents whom children or babies have passed away, stay strong. XOXO

Perhaps one of the most significant pictures I have ever taken was of a wedding. However, it was a very special wedding due to the fact that it was the union between a white woman and a black man. The picture captures the moment right after their first kiss together as husband and wife. The couple is looking into each others eyes with smiles that are indescribable. What makes the picture so special is that I developed it in black and white. This picture speaks so much about this couple. How to them it didn't matter the color of each other's skin but that they are two people who are desperately in love with each other.


I think that pictures are probably one of the most important things that a person needs outside of the basic needs like food, shelter, clothing. Like goals and hope, memories create a higher quality of life. Pictures can provide many overlooked details about how life (dress, style, hobbies, etc) was like in the time a famous person in history or of an older family member. Whether the subject is about a graduation, the death of a loved one, or even just capturing a smile on a "regular" day, pictures serve to remind us that life is important and that every moment is precious and fleeting.

This article reminded me of the importance of enjoying the present but still capturing some of these moments so you can remember them in the future. A picture is worth a thousand words and should be treasured. It really touched my heart to hear of the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Program. The photographers who take these pictures are extremely gracious. Pictures capture the moments we want to remember good or bad.

I believe picture are a way for us to remember our past and are even a way for us to know where we are going. Before photographs were invented people still use to record their memories with wall paintings. This leads me to believe that pictures are essential to our society and relevant in a major way.

Due to the advancements of digital cameras and social networks such as Facebook, I believe taking pictures for the average American has changed. Now we can upload our pictures through the computer, and many never order hard copies. I can not remember the last time my mother put together a photo album. What is the point, when we can all gather around the computer screen? Or the new digital picture frames that display a digital image of varying photos. Social networking websites allow other's to see our photos who normally would not, and vice versa. Although the way in which we view photos has changed due to techonological advancements, the significant meanings behind each picture remains the same.

I think pictures for my family are just to remember. I picture lets you remember every detail inside the frame. I remember looking at a picture from when my family had shag green carpet, my mom and i laughed for hours about how ugly that carpet was.

I agree that pictures are moments captured that last forever. In pictures, we see memories, we see what was and we compare that to what is. A photo is a personal story, even if it not personal to the photographer, someone takes that photo to heart or can remember that moment in their mind. What has been taken in a photo will last forever, whether it is taken down or dead, the picture is a memory, and memories can last as long as one seeks it out in their mind.

I agree wholeheartedly that pictures have a huge impact. They are memory keepers, and allow us to go back to a certain time in the past and give us a chance to reflect on that moment in time. However sad, happy, angry, or uneventful the picture is, it will bring a memory to mind. Pictures help us to remember the past and to remind us that those moments and those friends matter.

Just like the saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words" and sometimes those photos can mean the world to some people. Pictures show our past, our history, what made us who we are today. Pictures show those rare moments that some people hardly remember in their minds and can sometimes show our flaws. Although now the world has advanced in technology and all of our photos are digital, they still capture the precious moments that we all have. This blog post really touched me, it shows peoples passion, love, and caring for others and shows that every moment in one's life is precious and should be treasured.

Pictures are the best way to capture the liveliness of happy moments and cherish those memories forever. I also think that the dead should be left to rest in peace. We cannot photograph a dead person because you do not have his/her permission anyway. I would not want to see my dead grandpa’s face jumping out from the pages of my album. My favorite pictures are all usually from my family time that is well spent.

I know a girl who just lost her baby boy. I know that it is really hard for her, and lately she's been putting tons of pictures of her baby on her facebook page. I think the nurse actually took alot of them. So I know that going through something like this is extremely hard and that pictures somehow help in ways. I think it's just the role of a mother that likes those pictures. Always caring.

I agree completely; pictures have a way of capturing the beauty, sadness, and all other types of emotions that cant as easily be recalled in just memories. I take pictures of everything to capture moments I want to remember, and to share with others. Pictures can save emotions and details that can fade in memories.

I watched this video and ended up in tears. Thank you for sharing this story. I think it's tremendous how alot of us Americans just want to help and be there for one another and support each other.

Fantastic blog! I agree that photos have a magical effect on all persons. They can bring back bad memories or good ones. I cherish many photos of my younger days with me and my family near the Christmas tree. It brings back feelings of security and warmth. We can't necessarily touch what was in the photo, but we can remember the memories.

I chose this article because I love photography, and upon completing reading it, I can say that this is a truly amazing article. I cannot agree more with the author that the way we choose to view a photograph, will affect what we are able to take away from a given photograph. Admittedly, before I read the article, I thought to myself, this seems strange, and quite honestly, creepy. Why would anyone want to photograph the dead? By the end of the article, I was trying to hold back tears. As I grew up, I attended the funerals of many family members who had passed on. Out of these many funerals, not one was an open casket. When I attended funerals, they were either at a church, where their body was not present, or at a graveyard, where it had already been buried. If I were to have attended an open casket funeral growing up, my mother would not have permitted me to see the body of the person who had already moved on. This is what created my shocked reaction to the concept of not only someone looking at a dead infant, but photographing it. However, by watching the video in the article, I can see how truly happy the parents are to have these photos, and it is not about the fact that the child in the photo has just passed on, but that the moment itself existed. I learned that there is really nothing dark or strange about these photos at all. These photos represent the hard work and dedication of the volunteers who took them, as well as their respect in wanting to help in this indescribably difficult experience for parents.
This concept, of looking at photos without any preconceived judgments really has a lot to do with the sociological perspective; looking at something for it, in and of itself. Looking at a photo and obtaining “beginner’s mind,” can almost be a sort of healing method for the way we view others, and everything around us. It creates a refreshing perspective in that we are not applying any preconceived ideas when we view the object, or subject at hand. We are simply taking it to mean what we think it means, by looking at the object and the object alone. At first, when I realized the photos were of a child who was no longer alive, I thought it was morbid. However, going back and viewing the photos with a beginner’s mind, I can now see the child may have just been easily sleeping. Even knowing that the child in the photo has passed on though, looking at it, I no longer want to immediately turn away. I can see the picture for its beauty and the intense simplicity of the nature of its reality, and the peace it brings every time parents look at it.

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