What Matters Today: Photography

I love words. I adore the act of selecting just the right combination of them to tell a story, to express what’s on my mind. I admire how deliberate words can be, thoughtfully chosen and carefully strung together to impart the exact meaning of our intentions.

But while I was in college, I was introduced to what quickly became a close second to my love of words and writing: photography.

As a journalism student, I was intrigued by and slightly intimidated by the thought of signing up for a photojournalism course; never had I even held a DSLR camera before, and yet, there I was hungry to put my name down for this class. I was also concerned about losing my crutch: words. I now had to rely on my eye, my camera, and my hand to be able to capture sans words a whole story in a single shot.

Over the summer, I purchased a Nikon D3200 and decided that my down time should be used to get comfortable with the camera — or at least its collection of dials and tiny buttons.

At the time, the camera felt like holding in my hands a physical embodiment of a different language. It was so foreign to me that I was almost afraid to hold it, as if it were the real Rosetta Stone in my tentative grip. Eventually, however, my intrigue overtook my worries and I set about learning how to use the camera, trying it out first in its automatic settings.

The first click of the shutter had me hooked.

Once I arrived in class that fall, I was eager and ready to put that camera to the test. I devoured every lesson on shutter speed and aperture just as much as I did the classes where we analyzed the work of timeless photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa. I even started to develop favorite photographers of my own, such as Lynsey Addario and Steve McCurry.

I quickly discovered another passion, and I kept taking photos and following the works of different photographers long after the course concluded and certainly long after I graduated. Which is why, when I see articles online that aggregate the week, month, or year’s best photos, I find myself clicking on the piece before I even consider otherwise.

Case in point: Buzzfeed’s 23 of the Most Powerful Photos of the Week, which I perused today in the midst of my typical scan and search of the headlines. Photo after photo, caption by caption, I was just as mesmerized as I once was sitting in my photojournalism class years ago.

Each photo, of course, freezes a moment in time, all taking place in different parts of the world, on different days, at different times, doing different things. From the Beirut explosion to children praying in Japan, from wildfires in France to life in the time of Covid-19, each one presents a particular piece of life from around the globe and solidifies it into a single, stationary image.

These images, however, also do something else. They remind us that no matter where we are in the globe or what we are experiencing, there is a great and vast humanity that extends far beyond our own slices of the world — and that we are all experiencing this thing called ‘life’ separately, but together. That we may face different challenges, speak different languages, suffer different losses, and live different lives, but at our very core, we are all human beings, existing on this earth at the same time, under the same sun and moon, within the same atmosphere, galaxy, and universe.

This is what is so powerful about photography: in a single snapshot, we can be reminded of our own humanity, the world, and the space we occupy within it. In a way that perhaps words can sometimes fail, photography pushes past the circuitous route of the written word and shows us up front what matters and why it does. Images are, after all, worth a thousand words.

So what matters today is not only stunning photography, but what those photos mean. What matters today is looking beyond aesthetics for the story, because the story within the visual will often teach us something about ourselves and who we are. What matters today is taking the time to stop and look at the imagery presented to us, and to not only appreciate it for what it is, but also let it move us in the ways that only photos can. What matters today is letting those visuals and their messages travel with us, so that they can help inform our sense of the world we live in.

What matters most today is acknowledging that despite our differences — be they in physical location, culture, language, religion, or otherwise — we are one people under one sky all experiencing this thing called life. And maybe, just maybe, we are more alike than we are different.