12 September 2014

When one photograph is worth
more than a thousand words

The Advent Wreath in Christ Church Cathedral ... illustration on the Advent 2014 Catalogue from DM Hay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Since I began this blog in December 2007, I have been conscious of the old maxim invoked by editors that a good photograph is worth a thousand words.

During the past week in Cambridge, I have been learning about Russian philosophers, theologians and writers. One writer who did not come up for discussion was writer Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818-1883), for – unlike Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and his other contemporaries – he lacked religious motives in his writings.

But Turgenev may be the source of this wise old adage. In Fathers and Sons (1862), one of the major works of 19th-century literature, he writes: “A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.”

The expression appears again in 1911 as “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words,” in a newspaper article in the Syracuse Post Advertiser quoting an American editor, Arthur Brisbane, discussing journalism and publicity.

A similar phrase, “One Look Is Worth A Thousand Words,” is found two years later in newspaper advertisement in 1913. Later, a 1918 advertisement includes the statement: “One of the Nation’s Greatest Editors Says: ‘One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’.”

I have tried to illustrate blog postings with good illustrations and preferably with my own photographs not only to keep readers on a page but I also because I am conscious that good illustrations often capture a moment in time or make a point in a way that makes even 1,000 words inadequate.

It is easy to download these photographs, and I have cared little about who might use them. When I get a request for commercial or party political use, I generally say no – if businesses can make a profit, then they can afford to pay professional photographers for their work; and I am not willing to have my images (or words for that matter) put to party political use, and prefer to share my political views only with family members and close friends.

But when it comes to church groups, voluntary organisations, charities, not-for-profit organisations, and sports or arts groups, I am generally happy to say yes, even when I privately have reservations about their aims or values.

The only conditions I express in these circumstances are that I am named as the photographer, and that (if possible) I receive a printed copy of the publication.

In recent months, I have been pleased to say yes to the use by my photographs by a variety of organisations, ranging from a fund-raising campaign by Jesus College Boat Club in Cambridge, to a series of evening events in Grosvenor Road Baptist Church in Dublin and a quiz on the Late, Late Show.

While I was in Cambridge this week, the Advent 2014 Catalogue arrived in the post from DM Hay, church suppliers since 1955 and based in Devon. The catalogue uses my photograph of the Advent Wreath in Christ Church Cathedral to illustrate the front cover.

DM Hay Church Supplies was formed in 1955 to serve Church customers across the south-west of England from a shop close to Exeter Cathedral. At the end of 2004, the company extended its geographical reach by developing the mail-order side of its business, and in 2008 moved to larger premises in Holsworthy, West Devon.

But why would I say use to this company and not to others?

The parent company of DM Hay, Trade Advance Ltd, is a ‘More Than For Profit’ company. It operates like any other company in that it aims to grow and generate a profit; however, it also believes it can add value socially and environmentally too.

For example, DM Hay is making a difference in Ethiopia, and says its business in turns allows the company to donate to the Bees for Development project.

The Centre of Excellence has raised annual incomes by an average of 42% in its first year. This enables families to buy food and medicines.

In Bahir Dar, 26% of the population is classified as chronically poor. One person in the first training group, Shide Gete, owns little land, and having no oxen could not plough his land. He and his older children worked as hired labour.

But, as a result of Bees for Development, Ethiopia’s training programme, he learned how to keep bees and produce a honey crop without any financial investment. He learned to make hives from easily available local materials. Shide’s honey crop was 80 kg in his first year – which sold for £90. This has made a huge difference to his family’s life, enabling him to buy clothes for his children and medicine for his family.

Shide will increase his income year on year as he develops his beekeeping business, selling more honey and beeswax.

For Mitin Teferi, a single mother, life is a constant struggle as she works to take care of her children and grow food. She works as a casual labourer for extra income. She needs more income to make ends meet, but she has little spare time. For her, beekeeping is a real help because the bees do all the work, gathering nectar and making honey – honey she can then sell. Mitin had benefitted from the training delivered by the Centre in Ethiopia and earned £50 in the first year. This really helps her support her children.

This project is changing lives for the better. If one photograph changes one life, then it is certainly worth more than 1,000 words.

My photograph on the cover of DM Hay’s Advent 2014 catalogue

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