The Reading the Pictures Salon

A screenshot of the Reading the Pictures border wall salon. Photo by Josh Haner for The New York Times.

The Reading The Pictures Salon is a real-time discussion between photojournalists, visual scholars and other visual or subject experts. Each Salon examines a set of images relevant to the visual stories of the day with a focus on the media and social media framing of a significant social issue. The basic premise of Reading the Pictures is that people (even visual professionals) don’t spend enough time talking about the information and meaning contained in the elements and composition of individual images. That’s why the photographs is the key element and driver of each Salon discussion–the 9 photos derived from a thorough, thematic review of thousands of published media images.

When held online, an accompanying audience chat, displayed side-by-side with the panel discussion, makes the discovery that much richer.

Screenshot of Reading the Pictures salon discussion with audience chat.

After each event, we post a full replay as well as 2-minute highlight clips of each image combining highlights of the discussion with a unique, choreographed “tour” around that image.

In this clip, panelists Max Mutchler of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University; Kurt Mutchler, Senior Science Editor at National Geographic; producer and author Marvin Heiferman; and NPR Multimedia Science Editor Ben de la Cruz, discuss the visual, scientific and artistic aspects of the most recent version of the Hubble photograph, “Pillars of Creation.”

In this highlight segment, Reading the Pictures publisher Michael Shaw; RTP Editor-at-large, Meg Handler; Robert Mackey of the Intercept, formerly of The New York Times; New York Times photographer Todd Heisler; and writer and producer David Campbell delve into the elements of a photograph by Getty photographer Scott Olson, taken during protests against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri.

We also feature images and analysis from each Salon on our Instagram feed. This allows us to share the insight that came out of our extensive photo research beyond the images analyzed in the final discussion.

We launched the Salon in 2008, when our site was still known as “BagNewsNotes.”

BagNewsSalon Kiev uprising flyer.
Since then, we have produced 29 Salons working with partners and sponsors including Magnum Foundation, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, London College of Communications, the University of Maryland, Victoria University, and the Open Society Foundation. We have covered topics from social justice to political campaigns to foreign policy.

For examples, take a look at: The Visual Representation of the US/Mexico Border Wall in the Media; How Science is Pictured in the Media and Public Culture; The Visual Framing of the Migrant Crisis; The Visual Framing of Surveillance; The Debate Over White House Photo Access; The Picture from Syria; or The War on Women.

The Salons are also held in person. We have hosted public salons at such venues as Columbia University and the annual Photoville photo festival in Brooklyn.

The Salon also engages key figures in photojournalism and visual analysis, focusing on participating journalists in each story area.

The photo below includes visual journalist M. Scott Brauer, photojournalist Mark Abramson, and documentary photographer Hilary Swift who spoke to each other’s photographs from our Salon looking at the 2016 presidential campaign through the eyes of young photojournalists.

Reading the Pictures Salon 2016 screenshot

Past participants have included: visual academics: Marvin Heiferman (Author and Curator), Rebecca Adelman (University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Media & Communication Studies) Michelle Bogre (The New School/Parsons), Shani Orgad(Media and Communications, London School of Economics) David Campbell (Director of Communications and Engagement, World Press Photo), John Lucaites (Humanities, Indiana University), Robert Hariman (Northwestern University, Communication), Marita Sturken (NYU, Media, Culture & Communication) Fred Ritchin (Dean, International Center of Photography) publishers, Cory Keller (SFMOMA), writers, editors and photo-analysts:Ben de la Cruz (NPR), Mike Davis (former Lead Picture Editor, White House Photo Office 2001-2004), Glenn Ruga (Founder, Social Documentary Network), Patrick Whalen (Photo Editor, Wall Street Journal), Judy Walgren(Editorial Director, ViewFind),  Holly Hughes (Executive Editor, Photo District News), Jamie Wellford (Photo Editor, National Geographic), Alice Gabriner (International Photo Editor, TIME), Pete Brook (Publisher, Prison Photography); and photojournalists:> Samantha Appleton (White House) Todd Heisler (NY Times), Barbara Kinney (White House, Clinton Campaign). Stephen Crowley (NY Times), Nina Berman (School of Journalism, Columbia University) Donald Weber (Independent), Landon Nordeman (Independent), John Moore (Getty Images), Chris Hondros (Getty Images), Mario Tama (Getty Images), Michael Williamson (Washington Post), Scott Strazzante (Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle).

The Salon is moderated by visual expert and University of Illinois professor Cara Finnegan and Nathan Stormer of University of Maine.

View recent Salons below or view the full archive here.

Sponsors Opportunities

Interested in sponsoring an upcoming Salon? Let’s chat.