Book Chapter

Look into my lies: the strategic use of photography in UK Gov’s 2021 coronavirus campaign



Macdonald E & Jones B (2023) Look into my lies: the strategic use of photography in UK Gov’s 2021 coronavirus campaign. In: Lilleker D & Veneti A (eds.) Research Handbook on Visual Politics. Political Science and Public Policy. Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 370-380.

Chapter 28: In 1983 Beaumont Newhall wrote, "a picture made by photography implies by its method of production a basis of fact". In today's world of filters, deepfakes, and non-human photography (Zylinska, 2017) that statement perhaps seems dated, but the continued use of photography as proof (Tagg, 2009) suggests that Newhall's observation isn't quite ancient history just yet. This chapter uses the UK Government's 2021 Covid-19 Campaign (dubbed the 'Look into My Eyes' campaign) to explore the way in which institutional use of photography reinforces the arguably dated notion that photographs offer objective proof. We conduct a multimodal visual analysis of the campaign in order to investigate how photography is employed strategically by authoritative institutions such as the UK government. Our approach is primarily a social semiotic analysis that considers social proxemics, visual framing, and creative techniques such as post-production manipulation. To complement our visual analysis, we conduct a focus group of 10 UK-based participants to explore public understanding of photographic authenticity, and state-generated visual language. We discover that the visual language of the campaign reinforces the established ontology of photography and, as such, relies on dated public opinion regarding photography's relationship with visual authenticity. In doing so, the campaign provides insight into the dangers of propagandistic use of photography and highlights the need for further critical discourse on the role of photography as an authoritative communicative mode. Our findings are contextualised within evolving debates around the ontology of photography, including technological advances, the increasing prevalence of photographic manipulation, and the emergence of algorithmic photography. Ultimately, this book chapter deepens the scholarly debate by examining the ontological "hangover" from which photography still suffers. Institutions still create space for the media equation that the photograph is real.

Visual Communication; Politics; UK; Coronavirus

Title of seriesPolitical Science and Public Policy
Publication date31/12/2023
Publication date online13/01/2023
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
ISBN978 1 80037 692 2

People (2)


Dr Bernadine Jones

Dr Bernadine Jones

Lecturer in Journalism, Communications, Media and Culture

Dr Ellie Macdonald

Dr Ellie Macdonald

Lecturer in Digital Production, Communications, Media and Culture