Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 10, 2007

Why Alan's Frustrated

Hillary-Molly

Chinnh2.07Molly

(click all B&W for full size)

Last week, I offered you some images from Alan Chin’s February 11- 12 campaign trip to New Hampshire.

In that post, I also noted Alan’s frustration in covering the presidential candidates, especially his sense of feeling like a “paparazzo.” Although Alan send quite a few photos, I only posted a few — those that managed to capture  some “real life” in an otherwise suffocatingly-controlled situation.

In the past few days, I’ve had a chance to talk to Alan, and a couple other photographers, about the problem, and to consider the profound disconnect between being on the scene, as part of the show — as opposed to encountering pictures in the media.

What it makes me appreciate, even more, is the power of the image to pitch a story — even in the face of our cynicism.

What I mean is, even if we know these scenes are thoroughly staged, their supposed genuineness still coerces the mind into considering they still could be what they propose themselves to be.  (Of course, this is much less true with hardened media and political skeptics, like us, but the cognitive-perceptual impact on what is generally a skeptical public, I’m assuming, remains substantive.  …Otherwise, I imagine we’d see somewhat less control.)

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Chinnh2.07Hildeli1 Chinnh2.07Hildeli2

So, how do you inject more reality in the face of the “staginess?”

Well, to completely shatter the spell, one could simply let people see more of what disturbed Alan so greatly that weekend.  For example, you could show how the visual press is necessarily forced to traipse after candidates through parking lots, or how the media — forced to whore for candidates posing as “just one of us” — necessarily capture them (like animals in a zoo) in the generic deli.

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Chinnh2.07Obamaeagle

A more subtle way to get under the contrivance might involve juxtaposing the visuals from multiple shooters.  (In the cases here, I provide you a “singular” shot off the newswire alongside Alan’s comparable work product.)

From four or five different angles, of course, one gets a much better sense that the supposedly private, intimate cup of coffee with the local State Senator isn’t exactly so intimate, or that the spontaneous friendly chat with the folks at the diner isn’t all that spontaneous.)

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Another value of the “visual check-and-balance” would be to put in context those photos more capable of actually slipping past our defenses.

By itself, for example, this shot of Obama above — alone; having a conversation with a resident in her apartment window in Concord; in an alley; beside a building “reading” working class; looking up to the citizen; wearing only a sport coat while there’s snow on the ground — is the portrait of populism, compassion, humility.

It might have a different sense, however, were it more contextually sandwiched.  In that case, you might realize the scene slipped in as diversion, the visually-opportunistic candidate taking momentary leave of the roving, documentary pack.

>>Note: If you have questions or comments for Alan, he’ll be happy to respond in the discussion thread. <<

Black and white photos © Alan Chin.  Used by permission.



(color images: Brian Snyder/Reuters.  Brewbakers coffee shop and downtown Concord, New Hampshire. Keene, New Hampshire February 11, 2007. via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw

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