Choosing a photo

You ought to know by now my fascination of photography is nearly boundless. Working for Cricinfo – and listening and watching the fine folk of The Wisden Cricketer magazine a few desks away – has opened my eyes to the decisions made in the decision of which photo should be published.

Given that we’re running a news site our task is pretty easy: fresh, fresh, fresh. Keep it relevant to (one of) our main headlines and/or relevant to the day’s main stories. Similarly with the magazine, a photo should correspond (and add to – and entice people into reading) a certain story. We are, though, talking about cricket which, despite our best efforts, remains a mere game. Although, approaching the first anniversary of that Test match, I’m reminded of its significance to our lives!

Over in the middle-east, they’re having a crap time of it. So it was fascinating to read the Telegraph’s blogs (which are superb I might add) and the decisions involved in choosing which photos to go to print. While we deal in photos of cricketers, their main headache is death. In the end, they chose these two:

Instead of these:

Apologies for the harrowing imagery but it’s nevertheless fascinating to someone relatively new to the industry; I certainly view newspapers, columns and so forth in a different light these days, and wonder sometimes “who decided that this be published? How many people subbed this article?”. The media get a bad wrap in this country. Often it is deserved. But quite honestly I think they made the right choice here between informing the public of what is going on out there (I still don’t understand it properly) and shielding them from unnecessarily graphic photography. The Telegraph geezer says:

There is no written policy on photo publication at the Telegraph. No two photographs are alike and no two stories are alike so it is almost impossible to write guidance that covers every eventuality.

Where possible we try to avoid explicitly showing dead bodies but the decision lies with the picture editor on the day. The choice of picture depends on the story, what other images are available and – in some cases – consultation with the editor of the paper.

If the story merits it, or if the picture is the best image for the job, then we will sometimes publish a picture which may shock some readers.

The Qana story was particularly powerful because so many of the victims were children. The most striking images of the day showed dead children and it was impossible to tell the story adequately without showing bodies.

The flip side is that arguably they’re wrapping us in cotton wool by not showing us the most violent imagery. As a wordsmith and writer I’ve a greater interest in the pieces produced than the actual photos but, nevertheless, photography continues to aid and influence journalism in every corner of the industry.

Words can be mistaken, misinterpreted, altered, subbed and disagreed with – part of its joy and appeal – but photography, especially wartime photo journalism, has no such luxury. A dead kid is a dead kid; an elephant is, well, just that. It’s quite a restrictive form of reportage in that sense but equally it has a great power and I reckon we’re fucking lucky to live in the digital age, with every man and his dog owning cameras and sharing images all over the place from every nook and cranny.

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