08 oktober 2012

Now you see her, now you don’t

AS I USUALLY SEE MYSELF as what you might call a ”visual” person, I am always intrigued by the things I don’t see. The human brain has a fascinating ability to filter the important information from the not-so-important parts. An ability which allows us to perceive only what we need to navigate safely through life, and reflect upon only what we find meaningful.

What can be particularly fascinating is the way the brain lets us completely ignore even powerful visual signals if the information does not seem relevant to us. Every parent can recall the surprise when you realized that your local supermarket contained a huge diaper section – one which you had never stumbled upon during the years before your first child was born. And you’ll probably agree with me that this is not because diapers are discreetly wrapped.
Another example is the fact that once you have bought a Toyota, suddenly the roads seem crowded with cars of that particular make (of course, you can substitute ”Toyota” with any car name). How could you have missed all these Toyotas before?

WELL, HERE’S A NEWSPAPER FRONT PAGE with a photograph you cannot miss. Or can you?
As a matter of fact, I could. And that’s what prompted me to write this blogpost.

Like most couples I guess, my wife and I go by the Law of the Jungle when sharing our morning paper: Each of us tries to grab the section that looks most interesting. Yesterday, I was attracted to Martin Bubandt’s wonderful, dramatic, and highly communicative photograph on the Politiken PS section front, showing Annette Vilhelmsen climbing the stairs of the Danish parlament:
Let me explain a bit about the background. Since last year, my country has been ruled by a coalition consisting of three political parties, one of which is the Socialist People’s Party which has never before been part of any Danish government. The socialists have had to face a lot of criticism because of the compromises they have accepted to stay within the coalition, and some weeks ago, the leader of the party resigned. Two female members of the party are now fighting for the chairperson’s seat. One is the lady portrayed in yesterday’s Politiken.

THE HEADLINE SAYS ”Will Vilhelmsen go all the way?” and goes well with Bubandt’s photo, a phenomenal depiction of the politician’s current situation: She’s about to climb into the unknown, a future full of uncertainty to her – until a few weeks ago, a relatively anonymous figure from the party ranks, someone few of us had even heard of – as well as to her party which may, under a new leadership, find it even more difficult to remain part of the government.
At the same time, this photo sets the scene in quite a dramatic way, resembling a renaissance painting rather than a press photograph, and elegantly twists the genre of the portrait photo by showing Vilhemsen from behind, steering our attention to her businesswomanlike authority rather than to her rather stern facial expression which, albeit she’s a new face in Danish media, we have already come to know quite well.
This photograph made me read and enjoy Olav Hergel’s article. In other words, it served both as an effective landing spot and as a strong piece of communication in its own right, leaving me a happy newspaper reader.

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE when I opened the e-paper to download this brilliant section front for educational purposes, and I saw the frontpage, only to realize that when reading my morning paper, I had not noticed the main photograph! How can you miss a photo like that?
I checked the rest of the page contents and yes indeed, I had read the main headline (not about Vilhelmsen), as well as the skyboxes, several of which had made me look up the particular stories they were promoting. But the photo, also by Martin Bubandt and with a bold, interesting composition as well as a suggestive content (although vaguer in its communication than the section front photo) … well, I simply hadn’t seen it.

The reason for this may be I’m just a dumb newspaper reader, or I was distracted by something else at the time. However, other factors could be blamed as well. Like the page design – I’m pretty sure I would have seen this photo if it had been placed above the fold (see below) – or maybe the relative shallowness of the visual communication? This photo’s looking good but perhaps doesn’t say a lot?
ou be the judge.
First of all, I think it’s an interesting example of how our mind – or at least 
my mind – works.

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