Get the picture?


WITH THE RISE of social media and blogs as now the primary source of information and news (over 65%) for the public, photos have taken a significant amount of space. Who really wants to read text and long analysis (like this piece)? Even a 30-second TikTok, sometimes an elaborate joke with a punch line, has to be engaging enough not to be swiped left too soon.

Photographs, increasingly digital and internet-bound, are accepted as the best record that an event has taken place. This assumption drives the need to set up photo opportunities to publicize such mundane events like starting of the construction of a new condo with personalities in hard hats, with beribboned shovels at hand in the pretend act of digging the foundations of a 50-story edifice, or that ubiquitous “armpit shot” of winners, hands raised by declarers and declarees of an election contest.

These prearranged settings and body placements, as well as attire, are staged using cinematic art directing for, say, high-priced weddings. The old “firing squad” photos of a wedding couple with their entourage of parents and godparents are giving way to depictions of unrestrained revelry. Gravity-defying jumps and gawky arm flexing are immortalized. Even through the pandemic, quiet weddings with few guests tried to dress up the couple and pick such exotic locations as a volcanic eruption in the background. Photos are posted on social media before the ashfall.

Photo opportunities are not limited to people. Fancy homes of non-celebrities (somewhere in Makati) are posted by interior decorators to show off their stuff. These shots of colorful sofas and paintings hung against white walls are unadorned by people. Still, they provide a cache for the classier set.

The photo revolution has reached out to the ordinary folks. Jejune occasions like eating out with the family comes complete with photos of dishes before they are eaten (yes, even tempura); foreign trips with the Eiffel Tower in the background are sent to Viber groups (Just bonding with the family in Paris now that the restrictions have been lifted); declarations of a “special relationship” announced by celebrities with a photo of cuddling on a hammock fully clothed, eyes locked on each other — you got a booger up your nose, Dear.

By the time it comes out, a photo release (pictures with explanatory words sometimes unrelated to them) can announce an event that had taken place weeks before, and already widely known by the cognoscenti.

The photo op has now become a political tool that takes advantage of the short attention span (some say five seconds to get engagement) that has been induced by social media and its unlimited and varied offerings.

Is it any wonder that the candidate averse to interviews and debates during the campaign, and now the winner of that contest making it clear that those supposedly revealing encounters have been rendered irrelevant, has now continued to rely on art-directed photos to communicate his policies and priorities? (His wardrobe has been upgraded.)

Meetings with cabinet appointees and foreign dignitaries are photographed to show the leader at work already. Glitches (errata) with the wrong designations (No, he is no longer budget secretary) and even names are instantly corrected by the new designate for the communications office — please ignore the previous release.

There are some benefits for this brand of “photojournalism,” especially for a timid subject.

There is no need to answer any questions or explain the details of a meeting or even what was discussed. The photo of adult males around a table, curiously without any pieces of paper for notetaking in front of anyone, is enough to suggest men hard at work. They were surely asked to dress up for the occasion. And there will be several photos to choose from, before the drinks and pork rinds are served.

No questions need to be answered afterwards by any of the “participants.” Isn’t the photo enough to show the start of economic recovery?

Photos are also used by job applicants, showing proximity to the new leader, celebrating the victory party, with a bottle at hand. Is he going to be designated chief of GSIS? This release is by the applicant himself.

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. But it’s the caption that defines a leader who accepts exposure… but not its risks.

Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda