In his recent book, GET THE PICTURE (Random House, 1998), John Morris does
us a great favor--he remembers. Photojournalism, unlike many forms
of photography, is of the present and its history is lodged in an oral
tradition which includes tall tales, of course. If you want to know
how a picture or photo story came into existence, generally you go through
hundreds of magazines hoping somebody wrote down what they heard (i.e.
if photojournalists’ strength was telling stories by writing, they
wouldn't be taking photographs, etc.) If the search in print is unsuccessful,
the photographer, if alive and willing to relive a certain moment can be
"I have worked with photographers, some of them famous, others unknown, for more than fifty years....I’ve accompanied photographers on countless stories; I've carried their equipment and held their lights, pointed them in the right direction if they needed pointing. I've seconded their alibis when things went badly and celebrated with them when things went well. I have bought and sold their pictures for what must total millions of dollars. I have hired scores of photographers, and, sadly, I've had to fire a few. I've testified for them in court, nursed them through injury and illness, saved them from eviction, fed them, buried them...."
Picture editors are revered (generally later), feared, and made to be the
scapegoat for anything that goes wrong. They stand between the photographer
and, these days, the business office. They often side with the picture
or story in dispute but most often money wins out. Celebrities sell more
magazines than insight into the horrors and international implications
of Bosnia, for example.
"The picture editor is the voyeurs’ voyeur, the person who sees what the photographers themselves have seen but in the bloodless realm of contact sheet...and now pixels on the screen. Picture editors find the representative picture, the image, that will be seen by others perhaps around the world. They are unwitting (or witting, as the case may be) tastemakers, the unappointed guardians of morality, the talent brokers, the accomplices to celebrity. Most important--or disturbing--they are the fixers of ‘reality’ and of ‘history.’"
Picture editors also have a little time to look for what the photographer
in a dangerous or rushed situation may not have seen. Who else is in the
photo? How does the composition of one image enhance its impact over another
taken of the same scene a second earlier? Also, while the picture
editor is invested in finding the perfect picture of a significant story,
the editor's distance allows her/him to stand back and consider. For the
editor, no one in the image fixed a flat tire on the company car or offered
a much welcomed glass of wine: the picture's content is paramount.
About GET THE PICTURE I can only add GET THE BOOK.
Chief Curator, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
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