February 7, 2015

Too Much Art in a News Photo? West Bank Rhythm and Flow

In the past year or two, my thinking has changed considerably about the aesthetics of news photos. The fact that editorial photography has become more expressive, drawing on elements of art, documentary and commercial photography, has been firmly established. That being said, however, the infusion of creativity into the news photo is not just an art itself, but is often a slippery slope. But how are we to understand the difference? A simple way is to ask if the artistic elements or qualities in the picture clarify and enhance, or confuse and distract from the descriptive value of the news photo. A constructive exercise to tease out the difference is to study the picture, then ask yourself what is going on without reading the accompanying caption or story.

Why don’t you try it with the photo above?

Maybe you were better able to read it than I was. The soldier, with that hat, especially, and the cocked knee and downward gaze looks like a figure out of a Dutch Renaissance painting. Like a tripod, there is a powerful symmetry between the soldier in the foreground with the model posterior and the two young women in matching black. As curious as the action is, it seems to say more about flow. They seem posed in such a way that this it could be a performance of modern dance. If the photo entrances me, it’s because of that theatrical nature, the way the flag dances too; the way still another flag peeks out behind the girl in pink; and the way the bodies are positioned in space. It doesn’t suggest to me — in spite of the proximity of the middle girl to the soldier and whatever-that-object-is in the air above — that I’m witnessing a settlement scuffle. In an impractical way, the art doesn’t deepen or draw out the news. It just transcends it.

(photo: Abbas Momani / AFP/Getty Images. caption: Palestinian protesters scuffle with Israeli security forces during clashes following a demonstration in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh to protest against the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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