Wednesday, May 5, 2010

David Griffin on how photography connects us

By Mike B.

David Griffin is the director of photography for National Geographic. He sees the photos behind the story and chooses the ones that are seen in the magazine. He selects the ones that capture the moment, hold the most emotions, and instill them in his readers. David Griffin believes that "Photographs emulate the way that our mind freezes a significant moment." In his talk he gives many examples to enforce his beliefs. One such "flash bulb memory" is when he saves his non-swimming son from a breaking wave in the Delaware surf. This TED Talk is filled with amazing stories and the breathtaking pictures that add an inspirational quality. As the old saying goes, 'A picture is worth a thousand words', and yet they hold more. Photography can convey a story better than words; pictures endure while words may not. Most people will not remember the entire article, but the pictures may remain sharp.

Griffin begins his talk by explaining that, "Every one of us has at least one or two great
photos in them." This statement is displayed by Dr. Euan Mason's dazzling photograph of a comet. Griffin then goes on to explain that the challenge of being a photojournalist is that you have to always take great photos and be able to tell a "visual narrative." Griffin takes the audience to Chad to tell of the beautiful wildlife there: the cats, baboons, lions and crocs. Then the story turns sour. A group of elephants are introduced, including the massive matriarch Annie. He shows the audience some pictures of the herd, and them migrating over the plains. Then a graphic picture is shown on the screen and the audience goes quiet. Annie had been killed just for her ivory, along with 20 other elephants. These images create a hatred for the poachers by showing the blood and carcasses of these once magnificent beasts. These pictures "created an understanding and empathy for the elephants, rangers and the many issues surrounding human wildlife conflicts." David Griffin goes on to give other examples: a story on the slums of Durabi (part of Mumbai, India), the depleted fisheries, and a story on the process for soldiers injured in
Iraq - from battlefield to regaining their pre-war lives. In all of these examples the pictures aid -or even make - the stories. Photography is vital in being able to "address some of our most important topics."

In his talk, Griffin shows 12 striking photos. He goes through each of them and highlights
the stories behind them. These pictures enthuse the audience; one picture in particular, stuns the audience. This picture is of "some camels moving across the Rift Valley in Africa… shot straight down, so these are the shadows of the camels." He captures the audience right away, and holds their interest until his closing statement. He provides some funny commentary to some pictures, including one of a soap disco. Griffin's speaking style is a bit awkward at times, and he tries a little too hard to make the audience laugh. I think that he should have stuck to the pictures, for he is not a comedian. At some points after he tried to tell a joke, he might laugh at it then sniff oddly. He was also looking at his paper too often. For a talk to be entertaining, you should work with the audience and get them to participate in it; to be a part of the talk. Griffin did not use the audience very much- it was like a pre-recorded speech. In this way, he made few mistakes, but I found it not very entertaining.

At one point in his speech, he says this: "Polar bears need ice to move back and forth, because they aren’t very good swimmers, and we know what is happening to the ice." It may be true that polar bears are having more trouble with the melting ice, but they are excellent swimmers. They have partially webbed feet, and hollow hairs. These two characteristics allow the polar bear to swim more efficiently and stay warmer longer. However, the problem is that they cannot swim to any ice, because there is less and less of it. They can swim for miles but need to sleep, and if they cannot find ice, they die of exhaustion in the water. The best section of the talk comes closer to the end, when he is explaining a selection on the leopard seal. These seals are very large and somewhat misunderstood. These clever mammals should not be faulted for their appetites that has been described as the, "munch of the penguins." Nevertheless, the leopard seal is "one of the most dangerous predators of the ocean." As the photographer got into the water with one particular 12' long animal, she was surprisingly curious. The seal came right up to the diver's face and showed him her big teeth, not necessarily threatening him, but just to show how big her teeth were. Then, apparently feeling sorry for the "big goofy creature in the water that for some reason, didn't seem to be interested in chasing penguins," she brought some to him. Some great photos were captured, and a beautiful story was told, enriched through those funny photos.

As Griffin says, "I believe that photography can make a real connection to people, and
can be employed as a positive agent for understanding the challenges and opportunities facing our world today". Photos give a larger view of the story, the scene, and those who are involved. Photographs can link the past and present and even depict what the future may look like. Pictures show us a view of our world that we may have never seen before. Pictures provide inspiration and a realization of reality; take a picture and capture that moment to share with friends, family and future audiences.

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