We read the pictures.
Reading the Pictures is a web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) educational and publishing organization dedicated to visual culture, visual literacy, media literacy through the analysis of cultural, news and documentary images.
Reading the Pictures analyzes and reports news and media images. In an ever more visual society, we seek to better understand the levels of meaning, the underlying story lines and the various agendas reflected in the more prominent news pictures of the day. We also publish and provide a careful look at original photojournalism and concerned photography.
No other site is as committed and singularly focused on the social, cultural and political “reading” of the individual picture. Given the power of photos to influence and persuade, we feel it is vital for citizens to become better “readers” and consumers of visual news and messaging. With “visual literacy” as our goal, we study the content and context of key images to reveal bias, narrative, stereotypes and personality.
Our main tool, besides the key images in the media sphere, is the incisive analysis of our contributors and our community. Reading the Pictures is not a lecture but an ongoing conversation between citizens, professionals from the photojournalism world, visual scholars and leading instructors and students from liberal arts, communications, photojournalism and journalism.
Reading the Pictures (previously known as BagNews) originated in 2001 from a daily political cartoon on a lunch bag intended to engage high school kids in the news. Michael Shaw, Reading the Pictures publisher and clinical psychologist, adapted the site to focus on in-depth analysis of news photos in 2003. Today, Reading the Pictures’ approach and visual analysis is part of the visual studies and photojournalism curriculum at many universities and colleges.
The site has received important recognition over the years, including:
- LIFE.com’s Top 20 Photo Blogs – 2011
- Picture of the Year International Award of Excellence for Issue Reporting in Multimedia — 2010
- Webby Awards finalist for Best Political Blog (along with Huffington Post and Columbia Journalism Review) — 2006
- Winner — 2006 Koufax Award — Best Post
- Winner — First Gilliard Grant of Merit for Excellence in Journalism and News Blogging — Netroots Nation 2008
- Credentialled blogger — 2008 Democratic National Convention
Reading the Pictures is also a proud affiliate of Photosynthesis.net, a professional photography online ad network. You can learn more about Photosynthesis here.
Reading the Pictures is dedicated to visual, political, and media analysis of editorial images, whether keyed to current headlines or specific cultural themes. Anchored by daily analysis provided byReading the Pictures founder and publisher Michael Shaw, Notes also offers analysis by a list of regular and guest contributors.
Originals publishes original photojournalism. Whereas others are primarily focused on finished stories, we are interested as much or more in the photographer’s process and how a story develops and evolves. As well as presenting the reader with quality visual content, we want to engage the photographer’s aspirations and intentions for the imagery in an ongoing conversation with citizens, the photo world, students and teachers of visual culture, even between the photographer and him or herself.
Conceived in the spirit of a residency, each photographers will present work approximately once a month, a different post appearing in the Originals section about once a week. Focusing on either single assignments or, ideally, the unfolding of longer term projects, we imagine these posts as similar to either slow blogging, journaling, the creation of more developed field notes, even the serialization of a novel. The goal is to allow photographers to think more deeply and out loud about the intent, goal, nature or impact of their imagery; how that imagery reflects on the story narrative or trajectory; and/or how that imagery reflects on the photographer’s evolution or working process.
Originals will be presenting the work of some of the world’s finest documentary photographers and photojournalists. Joining senior Reading the Pictures contributors Nina Berman and Alan Chin are: James Whitlow Delano, Stacy Kranitz, Rita Leistner, Jon Lowenstein, Radcliffe Roye and David Schalloil. Originals is edited by Meg Handler.
The Reading the Pictures Salon is an online discussion forum dedicated to understanding how the visual media frames the key social and political themes and events of our day. The Salon brings together the eyes and voices of the world’s leading photojournalists, visual academics and other highly-informed observers to analyze select edits of still news and political images in a 90 minute on-line discussion format.
Previous topics include the framing of the Syrian civil war; an examination of presidential Campaign ’12 optics; the visual rhetoric of abortion and the legislative “War on Women”; the imagery of “The Great Recession”; representation of the Egypt revolution and the Arab Spring; the visual framing of the Gulf oil spill; an analysis of the early photo coverage of the Haiti earthquake; and a look at post-Katrina New Orleans through the lens of photographer Mario Tama’s multiple visits there, among others.
The Salon engages the leading figures in photojournalism and visual analysis, focusing on key participating journalists in each story area. Past participants have included: visual academics: David Campbell, Paul Lowe, Loret Steinberg, Janis Edwards, Michelle Woodward, John Lucaites, Robert Hariman, Marita Sturken, Fred Ritchen; publishers, writers, editors and photo-analysts: Holly Hughes, Jon Levy,Kenny Irby, Jamie Wellford, Alice Gabriner, Pete Brook, Stephen Mayes, Justin Elliott, Daryl Lang; and photojournalists: John Moore, Gerald Herbert, Chris Hondros, David Degner, Tim Fadek, Alan Chin, Michael Appleton, Mario Tama, Nina Berman, David H. Wells, Ben Roberts, Michael Williamson, Rita Leistner, Ken Jarecke, Scott Strazzante, Nicole Tung, Yana Paskova, Stephen Crowley.
Reading the Pictures Salon is produced by Teresa Mahoney, a post-graduate teaching fellow at the Columbia Journalism School. Live discussions are moderated by visual expert and University of Illinois professor Cara Finnegan,Nathan Stormer of University of Maine and Michael Butterworth of Ohio University.
For two years, the Salon consisted of live audio accompanied by an online slideshow using Wimba classroom technology provided by OPEN-i, a global online community focusing on photojournalism. The Salon is now broadcast via Google Hangout. Most posts features highlighted quotes and a video archive of the event.
An archive of all previous Salons can be found here.
What with more than 5,500 posts so far, people often ask about our more representative or important work. Here is a key sampling:
David Frum Accuses NYT and Reuters of Staging Gaza Hospital Photos (GRAPHIC)
A detailed photo analysis during hostilities between Israel and Hamas disproves charges by The Atlantic columnist, David Frum, that leading news publications staged photos in a Gaza hospital.
The Dysfunctional Guitar: More on the Reuters Syria Photo Controversy.
The repeated appearance of the same damaged instrument in multiple images raises more questions about objectivity and legitimacy in the agency’s coverage of the Syrian Civil War.
When Reality Isn’t Dramatic Enough: Misrepresentation in a World Press and Picture of the Year Winning Photo
Widely covered in the photo press (NYT Lens Blog, Photo District News, NPPA, etc.), this post identified the misrepresentation of a photo by the Magnum Agency’s Paolo Pellegrin after it was awarded honors in 2013 by the two top news photo prizes, World Press Photo and (Missouri Journalism’s) Picture of the Year award.
My Lai, Sexual Assault and the Black Blouse Girl: Forty-Five Years Later, One of America’s Most Iconic Photos Hides Truth in Plain Sight
What are we to make of this erasure, one that indicates sexual violence in the light of day? And why is it that most Americans readily recognize the “Napalm Girl” but not the “Black Blouse Girl?”
Photo essay forReading the Pictures Originals.
Mike Kamber: Military Censorship of the Iraq War
This audio slideshow, produced forReading the Pictures by Sandra Roa, won a Picture of the Year International (POYi) Award of Excellence in the Multimedia Issues Reporting category in 2011. In this one video, Kamber (for the first time) showed and discussed many of the key Iraq war images the government prevented the NY Times from publishing. The piece has been viewed widely and has been included in many exhibition on the history of the war.
Obama: Channeling Rosa Parks
Besides calling out the White House for staging photos (way, way before this) and calling out the media for collusion , we’re the only ones who documented the staging of this widely published photo at the Rosa Parks museum in the middle of a fundraiser.
TheReading the Pictures/Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism live Salon was sensational for the clash between Alice Gabriner (former Deputy Director of Photography at the Obama White House and Chief Picture Editor at TIME magazine) and Stephen Crowley (Staff Photographer, New York Times) over how the Obama administration has been self-publishing visuals and limiting the photo media’s access. It was even more interesting because both, as distinguished as they are, rarely speak publicly.
In the Reflecting Pool: The March on Washington and the Diminishing Space for Public Protest
Not controversial, but unique and insightful. The kind of picture reading we’re known for.
Photo of Woman Stripped by Egyptian Military: Not Shamed, Not a Victim
Feminism and gender politics is a consistent focus. By Reading the Pictures contributor, Karrin Anderson, the post reframes the media’s perceived victimization of this Cairo protester to more properly see her as courageous.
This is a classic. Shows how media sensationalizes images … and how a frozen instant in time can be so radically misinterpreted.
Early Signs Of Sarah Palin’s Radical Agenda?
Oldie but goodie (2009). How reading material on her desk suggested early link to John Birch Society. (Picked up by Politico, Firedog Lake and others.)
The State of the News Photo
A lecture in 3 parts by Reading the Pictures publisher Michael Shaw presented at the Photoville photo festival in Brooklyn, NY – June 2012. It’s a little dated now but it’s a pretty good sweep and provides a good snapshot of our “forward vision.