Images can be extremely powerful. Sometimes one image can conjure thousands of lives and experiences, sometimes millions. Consider the swastika. Nothing but a few intersecting lines, but that image represents one of the greatest tragedies committed by humans against humans in our history. Hatred and prejudice beyond comprehension, and millions persecuted, tortured, and killed. There was no more sane or logic reasoning than about as much as can be contained in those few black lines, but that symbol was enough to inspire many, and to horrify generations, because it represented the words and ideology of Adolf Hitler, the man who made the swastika famous, and his odious Nazi party. That image, along with an image of a gaunt, hollow-eyed man in a striped uniform of a concentration camp; the star of David, sewn in yellow on the coat of a young German girl; the black "SS" on the collar of a German soldier...any single image representing that time is likely to make me cry.
As many people as show pride in their Southern heritage by displaying the Confederate flag, others get the same chills as when they see any of the images mentioned above. Some see it and think only of where they came from, the history of both challege and progress; some see only slavery and decades of prejudice and inequality.
The cross is another familiar and powerful image, one of the most simple, and at the same time, most profound. It means hope and promise for many, endurance, grace, and love. For those who believe in what it represents, it means that the one true God, creator of heaven and earth, sent his son to walk among us; teach us about the concepts of forgiveness, unconditional love, and eternity; be executed by crucifixion; and actually rise from the dead, all as a message to us as a species, to make a point about what is possible, what is expected, and how much we are treasured by this God. That is some message to be carried in such a simple design, even in its multitude of sizes, colors, and materials.
The peace sign is another charged image that can mean a theory, a practice, or an era. A pink ribbon commemorates the victims and survivors of breast cancer, a yellow ribbon soldiers whose return we await. The Iwo Jima Memorial statue sends waves of emotions and memories across the hearts of many who see it. The eternal flame marking the gravesite of John F. Kennedy has moved people for generations, as did the picture of his son saluting his casket.
Innumerable stories have been written to accompany just the few images I've named, and there are so many that spring to mind that I could easily fill my hard drive with them. They are like magic buttons, time machines that in a breath take you to that place, that moment, and fill you with the sights, sounds, and feelings of their subjects. They're virtually universal in their communication, transcending language and station, which is something that cannot be said about all mediums.