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Comunicar Journal 47: Communication, Civil Society and Social Change (Vol. 24 - 2016)

The transformative image. The power of a photograph for social change: The death of Aylan


Susana de-Andrés-del-Campo

Eloisa Nos-Aldas

Agustín García-Matilla


This paper focuses on the role of the image as an agent for social transformation. The methodology adopted is a case study: the impact of the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old child drowned off Bodrum in an attempt to escape on a raft full of Syrian migrants. This is one of the most widely seen social photojournalism documents in recent times, and it had a huge impact on social media. The study applies an iconographic, iconological and ethical analysis to reveal the constituent parts of an image with the power for social change. In its main conclusions, this paper describes the potential for easy resignification of the digital graphic image as it symbolically transforms reality, and the power it has to generate processes of pronouncement and activism among citizens in digital environments. The results of the case study show that the value of an image for social change is achieved not only by the magnitude of the tragedy itself and the information that it registers, or by its formal aspects (iconographic), but mainly by being able to express a change of logic (iconological aspects) and to promote processes of reappropriation and denunciation. The ethical debate on dissemination shifts the problem from journalistic ethics to citizen responsibility.


Photojournalism, social change, digital image, iconographic analysis, social impact, communication, refugees