Thursday, 10 July 2008

Pretty woman: Ugly photo.

I have wondered where I can nominate examples of totally crap news reporting either by journalists or photographers that can be voted on by readers other than on this blog.

Here's an example of a story recently in my local 'paper' (link) about an interesting 'personality' who has been willing to lend her name to promote an
interesting East Anglian artist, a story that was totally ruined by poor photography.

I don't advocate complete job demarcation in journalism. Plenty of monkeys can hold a pen and some blunts can use a camera but I am offended by seeing rubbish photos taken by a writer on their 5MP camera phone in too many news articles these days. I presume that is the problem but another problem is that so few photographers are given a byline (even if the writer is) that it is hard to measure and apportion blame when you see a crap photo foisted on the reader.

'Dead tree' news publishing is dying (while many newspapers have profitable online operations) and as budgets and staffing are forever being squeezed, editors sending both a writer and a snapper to cover a photocall, feature or interview a personality is getting as rare as hen's teeth.

Now, before I go on, I'll admit I might be thought, by them especially, to have an axe to grind with Archant. Why? Well, mainly because they're local and there's no alternatives so I complain about them more than other publishers but in fact they're no worse than many others on these issues. Which is sad if that's the benchmark.

Take the image above: is it really intentional that the hard shadow of the sculpture creates what looks like the outline of a human figure with a male appendage pointing directly at Ms York's breasts? Accuse me of a dirty mind all you like but there is definitely a subconscious message in this photo. The shadow forms a figure with either a phallus or a finger. Any way, it's an intrusion as bad as having horns coming from the head of your subject.

It wouldn't be the most exciting assignment ever to cover but you've got Susannah York, the lovely, still gamin, five times nominated, two-time Oscar winning actress on the verge of a comeback. You've got to go to over to the Sainsbury Center, the proof that Norwich is not a cultural wasteland, which is minutes from your office. You've got an renown artist long connected to the region and curators on hand to fill in the gaps. Tough day isn't it? What do you do with it?

Evidently this photo was carefully thought through and displays a genius for capturing the moment. I can imagine the photographer's internal dialogue as they worked out the way to tell the story. "It's about a famous person and an art show; stick the bird in front of the art and bish, bash, bosh; job done. I'm off to the pub..."

In this digital age, where everyone assumes anyone can take a photo now, standards should be rising, not falling.

It would fulfil my expectations if it was taken by the journalist sent to interview Ms York or by some bystander at the Sainsbury Centre but it wasn't. It was taken by someone I am reliably informed that has been working as a photographer at Archant for years.

Cripes, Googling him says he's an award winning photographer. Now I'm burning bridges and the boats here.

I'm not against blunts taking pictures. It's just disappointment and despair when a story that has every potential to be
interesting gets thrown away like this. We can all have off days but how can the editor/s fob this off on the reader? That's what angers me. It is either cynicism or ineptitude. Publishing this image shows no respect for the subject or the reader.

I suspect the filmmakers and Sainsbury Center are disappointed, having pulled in a big favour to get Susannah York there and getting practically nothing to show for it. That photo won't get into Aesthetica and I wouldn't show that cutting to a client.

I am sorry if the poor 'tog who claims authorship will feel unfairly criticised but if you're an artist, judgement on your work is being passed every millisecond the synapses of your viewer registers it.

This is one image that should have been spiked, at least cropped, fer crissakes. Those black spaces off the edge of frame, the horizontal framing, the upward looking viewpoint, the disembodied torso, not even a proper 'cowboy', they're wrong, wrong, wrong. And don't tell me it's clever post modernist irony or any of that sh*te. I reckon Roland Barthes, if he was alive, would have a lot to say about it.

I think I'll go now and enjoy some wine and the last of the evening in the garden but if anyone ever finds a 'rate this publication' site like, please share.


All of a sudden, 24 hours later, it just got more complicated. The following day the same story is in the sister paper, the morning daily, with
photos by the same photographer but a with different writer byline where the image used is much better. It's not quite Douglas Kirkland but certainly presentable enough for a newspaper and the same standard as thousands of press and PR shots taken daily. It's still one subject stuck in front of another but I can't know the circumstances this was taken under so I'll give everyone the benefit of the doubt. There's a bit more personality slant in the EDP story but that's the point of having Ms York there, otherwise the 'story' would be a listings item. The next gadget in the PR toolbox could be to have Susannah say something controversial to get a headline but I guess she doesn't owe anyone that favour.

OK, everyone can go home now. I can still stand by what I said: the first photo IS crap. It's an outtake so that was the editor's call. Given they must have had a selection of images to choose from, the 'tog is redeemed BUT it still troubles me. Why on earth does the Evening News run the story like a total piece o
f sh*te and the EDP run a better and more in-depth version of the same story 24 hours later? I can only suppose it is reader demographics or has someone been reading this blog? I suspect that in the Evening News, art news is just space filler whereas those who might actually go and see this exhibition will read the EDP.

Then this brings up the whole can of worms about practise in documenting of the arts and its relationship with the media which interests me, especially in the areas of performance, but that is for another day.

Do you know anything different? Comments are welcome.

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