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'The Big Picture' offers stunning array of photos

December 1, 2008
I've often thought that words are just as powerful as pictures, especially when used by someone with effective linguistic skills. But honestly, sometimes only a picture will do.

This rang true for me recently when I found myself gazing at a photo blog (essentially, a periodic posting of photos with captions) called The Big Picture (http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/). The Big Picture is compiled "semi-regularly" by Alan Taylor of The Boston Globe and is inspired by publications such as Life and National Geographic as well as such online experiences like MSNBC's Picture Stories galleries (http://www.msnbc.msn.com) and Brian Storm's MediaStorm (http://mediastorm.org/). According to Taylor, The Big Picture is intended to highlight high-quality, amazing imagery with a focus on "current events, lesser-known stories and, well, just about anything that comes across the wire that looks really interesting."

Topics range from small to large, inconsequential to vital, from around the corner to across the globe. You can become a fan of The Big Picture over time or almost instantly; all it takes is one image that speaks to you. I've found images of both outer and inner space that expanded my horizons, photos of places that changed my perspective, and images of people in crisis that challenged my sense of humanity. In every case, they were memorable. In many cases, they were unforgettable.

The photos of the Congolese refugees — euphemistically and entirely without feeling called "Internally Displaced People"-are haunting, particularly one taken of a father and two young boys with all of their belongings, making their way through the pouring rain. The boys are tiny and emaciated. The man looks utterly determined. It makes you feel helpless.

There are photos of the aftermath of heavy storms in Yemen, depicting some of the horrible flooding that damaged buildings and took lives across the country. While feeling the wrath of nature on the one hand, it's impossible to see the photos of the ancient walled city of Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site nicknamed the "Manhattan of the desert," without feeling some sense of awe and what man has created with bricks of mud.

There are striking images of hurricanes from above and Hurricane Ike from the ground. There are wars, soldiers, and civilians. There are volcanoes in all manner of activity and firefighters valiantly battling the smoke and flames in California.

It is not all tragic. The photo essay of Enceladus, Saturn's tiny icy moon is simply astounding. NASA's Cassini orbiter passed within about 15 miles of the surface, and the images it sent back are stunning. A few months ago, Taylor compiled pictures for a post entitled "London from above, at night." The images really need no further description.

There are gorgeous photos from the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing, captivating images of horses at work and at play, and nearly unbelievable moments from the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

I remember one collection from back in July that showed how people across the world deal with the sometimes oppressive heat of summer. From swimming pools to rivers, wave pools, ocean beaches and more, the photos showed our similarities and our differences in equal highlight. In one photo from the Everland amusement park near Seoul, there were so many people "swimming" that you feel claustrophobic simply looking at it.

You can find the images in one of two ways: chronological or by categories. Regular readers likely prefer to see the posts as they're added. If you're catching up, the categories might be helpful. A search feature would be nice, but its absence isn't debilitating.

In an era where information comes to us in ever-increasing ways, where people are inundated with data and overwhelmed with words (thank you for sticking with me this far, by the way!) it's nice to take a break. The Big Picture is that break, offering images that tell stories all on their own. It can be heartbreaking, to be sure, but it's always interesting and often fascinating. Go see it. (And then add it to your RSS feed.) You won't be sorry.

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Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.
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