At the end of the 1920’s George Duhamel, a French writer, made his way to the United States.  “America the Menace”, published in 1931, was a narration of Duhamel’s experiences in American society. Duhamel described American civilization as an “overwhelming visual publicity machine”. Moreover, Duhamel described 1920’ societal images as “a kind of masturbation for the eye”.  Therefore, I can’t help but wonder what Duhamel would think of modern day America.

Going off Duhamel’s thoughts, William P Banning, director of PR for AT&T in 1923, also believed in the power of visuals.  Like any other PR practitioner, Banning’s goal was to make the American public “love the company (AT&T), not merely regard it as a necessity.” In order to achieve his goal, Banning encouraged his staff to “think of an ad as an arousing visual experience”. Banning believed an image was more effective than the written word because an image has more power to trigger feelings within the audience. Therefore, Banning concluded that “an image is a more dependable instrument of persuasion”

However, Banning’s awareness of the power of the visual wasn’t unusual for the twenties.   For example, William P Banning launched a lecture course on influencing human behavior. Overstreet explains to students that giving facts to the American public has been a failure. In addition, Overstreet added that most people are visual minded, therefore translating messages into visual form is naturally more powerful.  Overstreet explains that there are two types of visuals

  • Imitative pictures: images sought to replicate reality. They convey an objective truth.
  • Selective pictures- Overstreet saw these images as more important. These images have more potential for influence.  Such pictures addressed” the eye of the mind”

*Overstreet explains that “if an imitative picture is informative, a selective image is hypnotic”

The chapter later discussed the power of photography as “real” tangible evidence of an event, person, situation, place, or thing. American’s perceived pictures as the truth because pictures couldn’t lie. Social reformists also used photography as a method of “silent, yet extraordinary” persuasion technique.  One of these social reform photographers was Jacob Riis whose images drove audiences to action.  In addition, Lewis Hine, another reform photographer touched his audiences with a photo of a young girl working in a cotton mill. Hine explained that with a compelling caption photography can become a living story embedded in time.  Hine also touched on photography ethics, stating that “while photographs may not lie, liars photograph” (below are some examples of Hine’s photography)

Finally, Oliver Holmes Sr., an amateur photographer described photographs as “mirrors with memory”. Photography is the most visual form of storytelling; this fact can be supported by the creation of the cinema. The cinema is created by “moving pictures”, and continues to stimulate imagination. Both photography and movie making are considered “modern art forms” that are still present in PR today. In conclusion, this chapter can be summed up by the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”

Written By: Lauren Gala

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