In my most recent post, I discussed the power of an image. As we continue to move away from traditions of literacy, and into electracy, visual stimulation is becoming a necessity, which is giving images more weight and influence on how we perceive events.
How often do we indulge any sort of media that is devoid of visual? Almost never. Whether it is moving pictures or stills, our frames of reference are heavily influenced by images.
This gives a great deal of power to photographers and publishers, and, in the words of Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility”.
People can manipulate photos to mean anything that they want through framing techniques, an technique as old as imaging itself.
Now though, people can even doctor pictures after they have taken it to reframe, emphasize, or crop and change the meaning of the entire image.
Just like words, pictures can be taken out of context and not only have a different emphasis, but mean the EXACT OPPOSITE of the original image.
David Rowe provides another good example of this when he recalls a newspaper editor cropping the events of “an incident from a ‘riot’ in London’s Notting Hill to enhance a concentrated sense of confrontation by cutting out ‘extraneous’ details of houses, trees[,] and bystanders”.
In that respect, sports photography is no different.
On the surface, the art of capturing a moment in time of victory, defeat, elation, disbelief , greatness, and every other emotion associated with sport, is pretty straightforward.
Stop. Look at everything that this picture is and what it says. You could waste words and pages on pages trying to describe this moment, or you could just see it.
It is hard to accurately describe the power that an image can have in something so nearly universal as sport.
In the same way that any other type of photograph can be manipulated though, so too can sports images.
Rowe points out that as far back as the Greeks, and likely even earlier, sport has been overtly related to sexuality. He quotes Guttmann, who says that in Greek culture, “everyone seems to have understood that physically trained bodies, observed in motion or at rest, can be sexually attractive”.
Very little has changed since then in terms of our perspectives of athletes, and this is typified by the mere existence of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition: an entire edition of SI, a sports magazine, dedicated to beautiful women in skimpy bathing suits.
The result of all of this attention that we place on the sexualized nature of athletes, is a proliferation of gender inequalities in sports.
Heather Mitts, an Olympic athlete, is, instead of being portrayed in her sport, simply holds a soccer ball so we know what exactly what she does. It seem clear that she is an athlete, but for women, society has decided that their bodies are more noteworthy than their actual athletic accomplishments. The result is what we see; she is sitting passively, displaying her body and giving a hint that, oh yeah, she a freaking Olympian.
Eden Hazard is a rising star for Chelsea and a member of a surprisingly good Belgian team. His creativity, pace, and skill are terrifying considering his youth, but, in his short career, he has no decorations whatsoever. He has no Olympic golds, no World Cup, not even a Player of Month award.
Perhaps this is just circumstantial: he plays in the best league in the world and Belgium is lower down the ladder in men’s international soccer than USA is in women’s. Regardless of their accolades, the way in which they are portrayed is indicative of an agenda, and while there are exceptions for both (David Beckham and Serena Williams for example), that agenda is an overwhelming force for the public eye.
Men are athletes, women look athletic. Men are active, women are passive.
At least, that’s what photo journalists in sports want us to believe.
Maybe there is something inherently more beautiful about the female body that makes this acceptable, but as long as this trend is maintained, mass public opinion will not change.