24 juni 2013

Simple, but far from shallow

I’M A SUCKER FOR SIMPLE SOLUTIONS. I love it when the presentation speaks so clearly that I immediately understand what the story is about, making it easy for me to decide whether to devote some of my precious time to reading it.
But don’t you think we should leave something up to the reader’s imagination, you might argue. Sure I do, but the point is, there’s plenty to be left for the imagination even when the first visual statement is perfectly clear. Here’s a great example from yesterday’s Politiken:

THYRA FRANK is a woman who got famous in Denmark for running a nursing home where the elderly are allowed to continue living their lives as they please – smoking, drinking, and eating unhealthy food if that is what they prefer. Two years ago, Ms. Frank got elected to parliament for a new libertarian party and this article is about the fact that ever since she went into politics, she has become all but invisible in the media.
The headline says ”Has anybody seen Thyra Frank?”.

I don’t think I need to explain what the photograph (by photo editor Thomas Borberg) says – if I did, it wouldn’t be so clear and simple, would it?
But I can tell you that the scene is one of the corridors of the Danish Parliament.
Have a closer look:

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS PAGE is the perfect interrelation between headline and photo. Has anybody seen Thyra Frank? Yes, I have, the reader will respond … but it looks like she is hiding. With a smile on her face, as if there might be some secret reason for her concealment. Maybe something we’ll understand if we read Olav Hergel’s article?
In fact, that’s exactly what we will – which sort of closes the circle, making this an ideal example of journalism as it should be practiced in 2013.

AND IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. All it takes – besides a great journalist and an interesting topic – is a photographer who 1) knows and understands the point of the story, 2) has a talent for visual journalism, and 3) puts the reader’s experience above personal prestige and esteem among colleagues.

Sadly enough, none of the above are self-evident.
At a reception the other day, I spoke to a well-known Danish free-lance photographer and took the liberty to comment on some of his pictures, criticizing them because I think he often prioritizes the artistic expression, and his personal style, rather than worrying about the communication.
”How do you think the readers interpret your photographs?” I asked him.
”The readers?? Nothing could interest me less”, was his bold answer. ”Editors hire me because they expect something special … and that is what I deliver, regardless of the story and the audience”.

THIS GUY IS THE MARIO BALOTELLI of Danish press photography. For people like him, the most important thing is not to deliver true quality – who cares about that? – but to be seen, to become a brand.
Shallowness characterizes a big part of the media industry, and a lot of celebrities – whether in showbusiness, football, or press photography – seem to have ”being noticed” as their top priority.
However, the Politiken page which inspired me to write this blogpost is anything but shallow. Simple, yes … but at the same time, much more profound than all the artsy-fartsy stuff that fills today’s media, and which may look so deep but is in fact mostly glitter.

PS: Just like what is being told about the real Mario Balotelli, this photographer whom I met at the reception turned out to be a really nice bloke :)

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