Warning: This article contains graphic images not suitable for children.


Building a Visual Vocabulary

U.S. soldiers uncover the horrors of Dachau Concentration Camp at the end of WW2

Many of the world’s most prolonged and heinous injustices have historically gone on unchallenged because they were concealed from public view. Only when a professional journalist was able to bring the injustice into public view was the injustice stopped. We think of U.S. forces freeing Jewish Nazi prisoners of war in the Buchenwald and  Dachau Concentration camps who were shocked at what they found. Their photographs appalled not just Americans, but the world.

Who can forget the 1972 Associated Press photographer Nick Ut’s photo of Kim Phuc fleeing naked across a Vietnamese bridge? When the 1973 Pulitzer Committee awarded Nick its prize, it signalled the end America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. These samples illustrate just how powerful images are to change the hearts and minds of people who were previously indifferent about the matter.


The Spotlight team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe spent 18 months investigating a major cover-up of child sexual abuse. They began publishing their exposés over a series of weeks. Their work earned them the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. 

Their investigation brought public awareness of the issue of institutional child sexual abuse. But it was the movie, Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy, which won the 2016 Academy Award for best picture that introduced their horrific story to a global audience. 


Uncovering injustice has not just been done by professional journalists and photographers. From the late 1800s King Leopold II of Belgium was conducting a rein of terror across the African nation of the Free State of The Congo as he brutally sought to exploit its natural wealth of rubber, minerals and ivory. His unchecked atrocities came to an end when an English missionary, Alice Seeley Harris, who was also a pioneer photographer, began to document the Belgian King’s atrocities with a series of graphic photos.  

The photo above shows a man named Nsala Wala with his daughter’s hand and foot. Alice Harris, working as a missionary in the Congo, took the photo in May 1904, after he had come into her mission at Baringa with a small package containing the severed body parts. Both his wife and child had been mutilated and killed.

The photo above shows a man named Nsala Wala with his daughter’s hand and foot. Alice Harris, working as a missionary in the Congo, took the photo in May 1904, after he had come into her mission at Baringa with a small package containing the severed body parts. Both his wife and child had been mutilated and killed.

King Leopold II of Belgium ordered the mutilation of any of Congolese who did not meet their quotas of rubber or ivory. Congolese men who failed to meet the quotas had their hands chopped off as an example to other villagers to work harder. The Belgian soldiers then forced women into their forced labour and they too became  victims of limb mutilation. The soldiers then forced children as young as 5 into these labour camps. The atrocities and mutilations carried out by the Belgian soldiers was conducted without the world even knowing – until Alice Harris, a Christian missionary to the Congo took the now famous photo of a father looking at the severed hands and feet of his now dead 5 year old daughter.

In 1906 Alice and John toured the United States conducting 200 meetings in 49 cities where they screened their Magic Lantern presentation. In December of that year, the daily morning newspaper, the New York American, published Alice’s photos every day for a week along with articles about the atrocities being committed in Congo. Within two years of this, King Leopold II relinquished control of the Congo Free State to the Belgian Government. 

It is estimated that at King Leopold II’s direction, 10 million Congolese had been murdered in addition to those who had been mutilated. The Belgians eventually granted Congo their independence in 1959.


On August 7th, 1930, two innocent young black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, were lynched by a mob in Marion, Indiana. A photograph was taken of the gruesome event which showed the hundreds of people who came out to witness the event exhibiting a carnival-like glee. Sometime later, a teacher in New York named Abel Meeropol, came across the photo taken at this event (shown right) and was appalled. He wanted to do something as a protest to this barbaric vigilantism. He penned a poem called Bitter Fruit using the pseudonym, Lewis Allan, and published it in the New York Teacher. He then set the poem to music and called it Strange Fruit. A black singer, Billie Holiday, heard Meeropol, his wife and a black vocalist, Laura Duncan, perform Strange Fruit at Madison Square Garden. She was a regular performer at an integrated night club in New York called Café Society and asked the owner for permission to perform the song as a closing item each night. 

Billie Holiday recorded this song in 1939 with Commodore Records. It sold one million copies. In 1999, Time Magazine awarded Strange Fruit – “The Song Of The Century” largely because the contribution it made to ending the practice of lynching. And it all came about because of a photo.

Lynching was eventually outlawed in the United States in 1950. The 1930 photograph, and the subsequent Abel Meeropol poem and the Billie Holiday song each played a pivotal role in bringing it to an end and adding to America’s visual vocabulary.



William Wilberforce campaigned tirelessly to end slavery in England. Initially he used argument and reason. This persuaded some, but not most. He then got ‘visual’ in his argumentation against slavery. Perhaps the most dramatic image that Wilberforce presented was The Madagascar (a slave ship). It’s not that Wilberforce abandoned reason (the primary reason he offered was that all people are equally human and each bear the the image of God), it’s that he supplemented it with images. This included eye-witness accounts from freed African slaves, reports from investigative journalists who travelled on slave-ships, and direct evidence of inhumane treatment from former slaves. Wilberforce persisted with his campaign (1791 – 1826). Three days before his death, the British Parliament outlawed slavery on July 26 1833. 

Reason plus complementary images plus persistence is still the formula for changing culture and conquering growing evil and injustice in any society.


Today, we are faced with the most heinous human rights abuses ever committed. Its victims far outnumber the fatalities of holocausts, wars or even genocides. The insidiousness of this mass tragedy is that its victims are almost never seen or even acknowledged.

A 2D Ultrasound of a baby 20 weeks after conception

A 2D Ultrasound of a baby 20 weeks after conception

It is estimated that there are at least 70,000 abortions each year in Australia which is an average of 191 unwanted pre-born babies are killed every day in Australia! In the United States, with a population 13 times that of Australia, on average, 2,500 abortions occur each day!

There is no doubt among Embryologists, that a human embryo is a human person since humans are not ‘assembled’ in the womb, they develop. That is, every required piece of genetic information necessary for an embryo to develop into an adult is present in the embryo. Humanity is not dependent upon size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency (SLED). While this is a reasonable argument, it doesn’t persuade everyone. This is why supplementing this argument with appropriate images makes this reasoning even more compelling. Abortion placards such as, “My body – my rights!” presents aborting a baby as being morally equivalent to extracting a tooth. But this view seems to change dramatically when there is a wider visual vocabulary. Scott Klusendorf, of the Life Training Institute (Colorado Springs), argues that the case for protecting the unborn must be a complement of both reason and images. In his experience, people often dismiss the reasons for the humanity of the unborn until they view images of aborted ‘foetuses’. This is the missing component to our society’s visual vocabulary. 

I am not against women or their rights. Neither I am against women exercising choice. But no-one has the right to unjustly take the life an innocent human being – regardless of their size (even if it is just a few millimetres), or their level of development (even though a baby’s heart begins beating from 5 weeks after conception), or their environment (even if it is a womb), or their dependency level (including being attached to a placenta for 9 months). If you’re up to it, view what is missing in this discussion by clicking on the thumbnails at the bottom of the page). The next time you’re in a debate with an abortion advocate, ask them for permission to establish a visual vocabulary for what you’re both discussing. They may not grant you this permission, which in itself is a kind of admission that they intuitively know that abortion is not morally equivalent to tooth extraction. But if they do, it is difficult to imagine that anyone viewing these images could not be compelled to acknowledge that abortion unjustly takes the life of innocent human beings who cannot defend themselves or even protest their innocence. 

Dr. Andrew Corbett

*This is a summary of an article which first appeared on Finding Truth Matters.

Aborted at 10 weeks

Aborted at 24 weeks

The Salamanca Declaration

Affirm The Salamanca Declaration and Subscribe To OurUpdates

Affirm The Salamanca Declaration and receive our updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!