These images were distributed to the mainstream media via wire services and subsequently circulated widely on social media, triggering further online and offline responses. These responses appear to have been driven by the accumulated momentum of the images as they were circulated and used across different contexts. This rapid response project – involving researchers from the lab as well as elsewhere – seeks to explore this phenomenon and uses this case to consider the wider role of social media in the contemporary creation of iconic images.
In relation to the Aylan Kurdi images in particular, the project seeks to ask: how did the affective power of these images prompt people to do things (to volunteer or become actively involved in the #refugeeswelcome campaign, for example) and what is the specific role of social media with these processes? The project will also consider these images from a broader historical perspective, by exploring how they reiterate longer-standing iconic motifs and how social media users themselves linked the images to iconic photographs from the past.
Initial findings from this project are published in The Iconic Image on Social Media: A Rapid Research Response to the Death of Aylan Kurdi*