The Power of a Picture

There are prizes given out each year for pictures that move the world.  I can think of numerous examples: earth-rise over the surface of the moon on one Christmas eve that was taken by the Apollo astronauts; the photo of the young Vietnamese girl who was fleeing from the village of Mai Lai during the Vietnam war; the picture of little John Kennedy saluting the catafalque that carried his father down the streets of Washington, DC; the young woman on the Kent State campus after the shootings by the guard…the list is long, but noteworthy.

Pictures have power.  Sometimes it is because of the subject matter that inspires, challenges, frightens or just captivates us with its beauty.  Those types of pictures are the stuff of legend…and they win Pulitzer Prizes (and other awards) for such great captures.

Not all pictures are of earth-shattering events.  Not all pictures display great technique or skill – some (like today’s photo) are not even composed or focused very well.  But that doesn’t mean that they don’t carry meaning.  It is enough to know the story behind the photo, especially if it is a personal story.  It might be a lousy picture (like today’s) but it can carry a tremendous personal punch in the gut.

This photo was taken on the last day that my wife and I were living in Atlanta.  We’d moved there to help a non-profit start-up, arriving in December.  By August, the funds for the non-profit had run out (we’d filed for our 501.c.3 before I got there, but it would appear that the application got hung up in the IRS’s delay of approving 501.c.3’s this past year!) and we were forced to take drastic action: moving back to the west coast where we could live with some relatives until I found work.

And so it is that on our last day there, we went with our son and his lovely family (wife and two darling girls) to Stone Mountain Park to share one last adventure together before we left.  I’d wept seriously bitter tears at the decision we’d reached to leave and move back to California – I had fallen head-over-heels in love with these little girls – and I was bleeding with every beat of my heart.  But, we just didn’t have the funds to make it work any other way.  Today’s picture was shot on the last day we were there (I’ve not been back since).  For me, this picture makes me hurt all over again, not because of it’s beauty, but because of its personal relevance to my life.  Pictures can do that to you.  And when we left, I literally wept 2/3rds of the way as we drove across country.

Of course, I have pictures of our California grand-children that we took the day before we left California to move to Atlanta…and l wept when we left them behind, too…and I still feel the taste of salt on my cheeks when I look at a couple of them – even though we’re near to them now.

I hope you take pictures – they help us be alive, to feel, to experience and perhaps most of all, to remember.


During the War of 1812, the U.S. Navy frigate Constitution defeated the British frigate Guerrière in a furious engagement off the coast of Nova Scotia. Witnesses claimed that the British shot merely bounced off the Constitution‘s sides, as if the ship were made of iron rather than wood. By the war’s end, “Old Ironsides” destroyed or captured seven more British ships. The success of the USS Constitution against the supposedly invincible Royal Navy provided a tremendous boost in morale for the young American republic.

The Constitution was one of six frigates that Congress requested be built in 1794 to help protect American merchant fleets from attacks by Barbary pirates and harassment by British and French forces. It was constructed in Boston, and the bolts fastening its timbers and copper sheathing were provided by the industrialist and patriot Paul Revere. Launched on October 21, 1797, the Constitution was 204 feet long, displaced 2,200 tons, and was rated as a 44-gun frigate (although it often carried as many as 50 guns).

The Constitution caught the British warship Guerrière alone about 600 miles east of Boston. After considerable maneuvering, the Constitution delivered its first broadside, and for 20 minutes the American and British vessels bombarded each other in close and violent action. The British man-of-war was de-masted and rendered a wreck while the Constitution escaped with only minimal damage. The unexpected victory of Old Ironsides against a British frigate helped unite America behind the war effort and made Commander Hull a national hero. The Constitution went on to defeat or capture seven more British ships in the War of 1812 and ran the British blockade of Boston twice.

In 1855, the Constitution retired from active military service, but the famous vessel continued to serve the United States, first as a training ship and later as a touring national landmark. Since 1934, it has been based at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. Over the years, Old Ironsides has enjoyed a number of restorations, the most recent of which was completed in 1997, allowing it to sail for the first time in 116 years. Today, the Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: The hypodermic needle was invented in 1853. It was initially used for giving injections of morphine as a painkiller. Physicians mistakenly believed that morphine would not be addictive if it by-passed the digestive tract.



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