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Cooper Discusses Photojournalism at LINC Luncheon

February 28, 2012 - by Joni Bowen, The Alliance Review

Is a picture worth a thousand words?

Dr. Len Cooper, assistant professor of communication at the University of Mount Union, attempted to answer that question during his talk at Tuesday's LINC luncheon.

"I feel that it is," Cooper said, referring to the topic of his presentation. "It's not that pictures are created with 1,000 words -- we imply meaning to photos through our experiences."

Cooper showed attendees a photograph taken by Robert Capa on D-Day depicting an American soldier landing on Omaha Beach.

"When we think of World War II, we think of this image," Cooper said. "There are a number of images that have become significant. There is a meaning associated with these images."

Photographs are often the first element that attract a reader's eye to a page, Cooper said. He noted that photographs often evoke emotion and bring stories to life. Cooper talked about the concept of "visual literacy," which refers to a person's ability to construct meaning from visual images.

"We look at images and make up stories about what we see," he said.

Cooper showed a number of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, including a photo of a starving child in Sudan with a vulture looking on. The photographer, Kevin Carter, was criticized for not helping the young boy, according to Cooper.

"He argued that his responsibility was to tell the story of this image to everyone else about what was going on," Cooper said. "One image represents what was happening all over (Sudan)."

Cooper also discussed how images can help people understand different time periods.

"Interpretation and meaning-making processes involve an interaction between the reader, the text and the culture," he said.

Cooper noted that not all images can be taken at face value, especially with the improvements in photo editing software available.

"People have a reason behind manipulating images," he said.

Cooper showed a number of photographs in history that caused change. For example, a photograph of a lynching that took place in Marion, Ind., resulted in ending the practice of black lynchings in the northern United States. A photograph of a mother and son falling from a collapsed fire escape in Boston led to a campaign to improve fire escape legislation around the country.

Following his presentation, Cooper took questions from the audience. One attendee questioned how contributed images will impact newspapers. Cooper said he teaches students in his journalism classes how to use cellphones for reporting.

"The difference (between citizen news and journalism) is in training, expertise and practice," he said. "Editing and contextualization of information is what's missing."

A member of the Mount Union faculty since 2007, Cooper earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and a master’s degree in media from the University of Akron and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in journalism and communication from The Ohio State University. Prior to joining the faculty at Mount Union, he taught at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY and Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, OH.

Cooper is interested in all forms of visual communication and explores methods of using multiple media for story telling. He has recently produced work for The North Canton Chamber of Commerce, Portage Collaborative Montessori School, Human Ohio and the Mount Union Multicultural Retreat as well as several narrative short films. His work has been featured on AboutHarvest.com and North Canton’s Patch.com. He is currently researching and shooting a documentary film about the volunteers who work to save shelter animals through a national rescue-animal transport.

The community luncheon series known as LINC (lunch, information, networking and conversation) was conceived to take advantage of the local expertise from Mount Union’s faculty and staff that exists in Alliance, in light of the University’s exceptional academic reputation. This is an opportunity to gain practical knowledge on current topics from local experts and a chance to interact with members of the University and greater Alliance community.

The last LINC luncheon session of the school year is scheduled for noon on March 27, when Kevin Meyer will present "Face Your Fears" in the Hoover-Price Campus Center at the University of Mount Union. The cost of each lunch is $10. Payment will be accepted at the door, but space is limited. For more information or to make a reservation, contact Chris Pontius at (330) 823-5993 or pontiucm@mountunion.edu.

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