Things As They Are.
Photojournalism in Context Since 1955.
Numerous contributing photographers. Afterword by Christian Caujolle. Introduction by Mary Panzer. Preface by Michiel Munneke.
Aperture, New York, 2006. 384 pp., 500 color illustrations, 9x11¾".
News pictures may be worth a thousand words, but what
are those words, and how do we know without a caption?
The practice of photojournalism is as old as the invention
of the wet-plate process, and the arguments over the
meaning of photojournalistic images probably started
about the time that the first negatives of breaking events
were developed. Compounding the problem is the
confusion of the factual impulse with the artistic
ambitions of many photojournalists, starting (perhaps)
with Cartier-Bresson, Renger-Patzsch and Kertész.
Things As They Are is an attempt to understand the ways
that photojournalism has changed, and changed our
minds, over the last fifty years. Though the book starts
with a brief history of the dawn of illustrated magazines,
the bulk of the material is devoted to the Golden Age of
institutions like Life, Look, the (London) Sunday Times
Magazine, Stern and many others. The real value of this
wide-ranging survey is the way the images are presented.
Original magazine layouts from the 1950s to the early
2000s give us a sense of the complex crossover that took
place between art, commerce and a sense of public service.
Many of the pictures are familiar, but knowing how
decisions were made in the layout process aids our understanding
of our own assumptions and associations.
Picture magazines have declined to niche vehicles in the
face of television, media consolidation/conservatism and
the advent of online publishing. But in their heyday, the
magazines were the record of what was going on in the
world; they gave a mass audience a sense of participating
in history as it happened. The talent, variety and dedication
displayed by the photographers are breathtaking,
and the dash and daring of the editors and designers are
inspiring. One can’t help wondering if we’ll ever see a
mass audience arise again with enough in common to
support such a creative outburst. PHIL HARRIS
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