A Life of Passion for Photography’s Power

Since the medium was developed in the nineteenth century, mankind has been fascinated by photography. The Victorians believed in a number of superstitions connected to the camera, such as the idea that photographs could reveal ghosts or that a photograph of a murder victim's eye will show the image of their killer. As society developed, it came to appreciate photography not as a mere novelty but as a vital means of documenting the world around us. Generations of reporters have used well-timed photographs to change the way we understand the world; and in today's modern era, when vast swathes of the population carry cameras with them wherever they go, each and every one of us has some idea of photography's power.

photographyPast eras can be revisited through the magic of photography. This is one of the reasons why certain artists are giving a new lease of life to old, black-and-white photographs through colourisation. On first reflection this may sound like an absurd idea - but in fact, it makes perfect sense. The eras that are recorded through black-and-white photographs now seem monochrome and grey to us; by re-producing the images in full colour, modern photographers can help to bring the past back to life.

Photographs can help to reveal the bleak side of the world. Nobody can forget the grainy newsreel footage showing the plight of Vietnamese civilians, for example, or the iconic images of "tank man" at Tiananmen Square. Today, we have photographers such as Ai Weiwei who blends art and commentary to illustrate the hardships faced by refugees.

Indeed, troubling images such as these inspire art themselves. All around the world, artists are using their work as a form of protest against the injustices of society. Here, too, photographers play a role: they take photos of agit-prop street art and help to disseminate it around the world.

What was the project all about?

This mass participation project aimed to have a large number of people spending a few days carrying out an exercise designed to boost their happiness. Because emotions are contagious it was hoped that their increased happiness would pass to those around them and help cheer up the world! The project took place between Monday 3rd - Friday 7th August 2009, and was conducted by psychologist Richard Wiseman (University of Hertfordshire and author of 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot).

What happened? Over 26,000 people signed up for the project. We will submit a full report describing the project to a scientific journal soon, but here are some initial results. In one part of the study participants were randomly assigned to one of five groups. People in each group watched a video describing one of four techniques commonly used to boost happiness expressing gratitude, smiling, recalling a pleasant event from the day before and carrying out an act of kindness. Those in the fifth 'control' group were simply asked to think about what had happened the day before. This latter group was very important, because it helped assess th