University of São Paulo: The role of images in pandemic narratives

“What logic, or logics, are at play in the ways in which people, social movements, political forces appropriate certain mechanisms of production and circulation of images and sounds? To what extent can image mapping help to understand the formation of opinion in the contemporary world? ” These are some of the questions that Professor Esther Hamburger , from the Department of Cinema, Radio and Television (CTR) of the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) seeks to answer through her research.

In recent years, one of the main aspects of his work has been the analysis of images related to important events of today, investigating the role of these images in the formation of narratives in a historical moment marked by the flood of information and the crisis of democracy. According to the professor, “there is an undeniable cultural dimension” organized around “the updating of the imaginary in a world that to some extent articulates around the aesthetic and political control of visualities and visibilities.”

At the request of ReVista – Harvard Review of Latin America , a publication of the prestigious Harvard University, the professor extends these reflections to the context of the current health crisis in the article Guerra de Imagens e Messages . Faced with the realization that the pandemic has been the object of analysis mainly in the fields of medicine, economics and political science, Esther affirms that thinking about pandemic images and their effects on the “public opinions of the world” is fundamental to understand the moment we are going through.


“The crisis intensifies the flow of images and sounds, we transform ourselves into images when carrying out various online activities. We do not necessarily look at the world, according to Aberti’s Renaissance metaphor – reappropriated over the centuries with each new technology, perspectives, photography, cinema, television, internet – we look at ourselves. ”

Images can establish the most diverse relationships among themselves, either explicitly or subtly, giving rise to various meanings. One of the most disturbing relationships identified in Esther’s article is the visual rhyme between the images of the construction of a hospital in Wuhan, China, and the images of the opening of a collective grave in the cemetery of Tarumã, in Manaus. The images reveal similar shapes, colors and movements, which, however, carry completely different meanings. “The similarity between them, accentuated by the fact that they take similar circuits, helps to point out the differences between the proactive reaction – albeit late – in China, and the self-conscious reaction, undermined by the lack of solidarity and coordination of the Brazilian government ”, says the professor.

In the article, Esther also explains how the absence of images is as eloquent as its opposite, especially when considering the strategies of negationism. While there is an intense production and distribution of images that discourage the use of masks, adherence to isolation measures and mass vaccination, images of the collapse in health systems, the efforts of research institutes and actions of resistance and solidarity (especially in impoverished communities) seem to face more obstacles to go viral on the networks. The result is the invisibility of speeches and facts that defy the narratives of denial and point out other possibilities of coping with the crisis caused by the pandemic.

“The emerging agenda for a planet challenged by multiple environmental problems and social, racial and ethnic inequalities should be on the screen. Perhaps donations and solidarity have never been stronger, but they are invisible. Is it possible to use algorithms to promote the shared and democratic production of knowledge? ”, Asks the teacher.

In citing the “reverse anthropology” of Davi Kopenawa (political leader Yanomami) and Ailton Krenak (environmentalist), Esther seems to suggest that the answer lies a few steps earlier, in questioning the current way of life and production. To foster this debate, it is necessary to promote “counter-images”, in the words of the professor, such as the video A Mensagem do Xamã , produced by the Socio-Environmental Institute for a campaign against illegal mining in Yanomami territory. The intense flow of images in the video synthesizes, at the same time, the adversities and potentialities revealed by the current crisis.


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