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Communicator of the Week: Wildlife photographer Brent Stirton’s use of imagery to tell an unpalatable story

How do you capture and keep people’s attention? While it is perhaps a popular misconception that the human attention span is declining (social media usually the chief culprit), it is true that we have access to more information than ever before. 

How we consume and process this information is increasingly image led (social media the chief culprit on this one too). While I still read hardback books while sat on the Tube, love losing myself in a #longread, and subscribe to magazines, I find I’m relying on imagery to signpost me through the heavy weight of information coming before my eyes more and more. 

Telling an unpalatable story that could be ignored via a turn of a page or swipe of a finger well is equally reliant on strong images. The awful pictures of three-year old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015 remain with me to this day. In red t-shirt and blue shorts, face down in the shallows, arms by his side, Alan’s body looks like my two-year old son when asleep in his cot for a daytime nap.  Those in power were equally hit by these pictures with the European Union agreeing a shared refugee plan days after little Alan’s death. 

Campaigning animal charities and activists are seeking to grab, and keep, our attention too. With so much human suffering on offer how do they cut through the static of information? With amazingly brutal and shocking photography that will have some questioning their faith in humanity. 

This week’s award winner is photographer Brent Stirton who took the winning image of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. 

The image shows a slumped black rhino killed by poachers and then dehorned. As a photograph it is stunning but as a vehicle for a message it is equally strong. The photograph shows the brutal reality of poaching but has also highlighted the scale of the problem we face in protecting the black rhino from extinction. 

Despite no scientific evidence horns are used in traditional medicine in countries including China and Vietnam. Their value is greater than gold and complex criminal networks ensure the rhino horn trade continues. Until that changes then there will be more rhinos butchered like the one in this photograph. The only way a change can come about is through international pressure and education - both skilfully provided by this photograph which is why Brent Stirton is my Communicator of the Week.    

Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.

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