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Which Images Should We Be Looking At?


`A protestor from a rural area camps out overnight with others in front of the prime ministers office in Tunis, January 25, 2011. Photo by Finbarr OReilly/Reuters.

A protestor from a rural area camps out overnight with others in front of the prime minister's office in Tunis, January 25, 2011. Photo by Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters.

With all of the protests in the Middle East, we are now being offered a large number of images that we can select from to try and understand what is going on. But few, if any, become emblematic. While there is something to be said for quantity, does it really help us to comprehend, or is this a timid interpretation of Web 2.0, where professionals try not to decide anything for us, including which images are the more important ones to be looking at?

Is it also an adherence to the foundational tenets of consumerism, where a multitude of choices is always best?

I found this image by scrolling way down the Boston Globe’s Big Picture (it is number 33), through a panoply of imagery from recent events in the Middle East. I am moved by it, much more than the usual imagery of clashes and large groups of people facing off. And I wonder what happened to the press that would select what we should be looking at as a way of fostering not only understanding but a response on our part?

When we saw the girl being napalmed during the Vietnam War other images served to provided a larger context, but the press was confident enough to suggest what we should be thinking about by pinpointing that single image as containing certain truths. What then do all the editors, reporters and photographers think is happening in the Middle East, and why can’t they let us know via a hierarchy of the imagery? (We need not agree.) Why are all images treated as equal? Is the plan to leave us without a point of view, confused, distant, passive? Is the press afraid to commit?


  1. Paul Melcher wrote:

    The reason is that they are no experienced photo editors anymore: They have all been laid off in favor of cheaper labor. Those who were capable of finding that image which ” tells it all” are no longer in charge. Rather, the internet culture has brought on the belief that viewers should be the curators.

    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  2. Abie Aguiar wrote:

    It is like you have read my thoughts exactly on the saturation of imagery by the press in recent years. I do not agree with the idea that more is better when it comes to photojournalism. I do feel that the need for content far outweighs the need for quality. It all most feels like editors are trying to use photos like video would be used in order to show a wide scope of the situation. Photojournalism has lost its way. Where is Magnum when we need them!

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  3. I also think the fight for page views plays a significant role in the overabundance of images. Somewhere along the road to developing a way to support this “new wave” of journalism, organizations became distracted by clicks and click-thrus.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  4. giovanni DB wrote:

    Is it a problem of editors or a problem of photographers? Is it a problem of photographers editing their takes and sending what they think will sell? Or editors editing out? I’m saying this because editors actually do not see all the contacts as it was in the past, but just a selection of images sent right away by the photographer. I do remember seeing amazing work of Iraq done just before the war started on the HD of a photographer friend of mine. Work that showed shops and rich Iraqis, work that showed a face of Iraq unknown to most viewers. That work has never been sent to the magazines or papers as the war started. The job was well done but never arrived on a editors desk because the photographer (even if he liked the pics) edited them out in favor of action and war pics.
    Who’s gonna have a look in the out-takes?

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink
  5. Giovanni DB wrote:

    One question comes to my mind. Is there any “iconic” picture of a revolution? For Iran’s revolution of 1979/80 is there “AN” iconic image? I was to young at the time and afterward I do not recall any single one that was presented as such. But I do have an Iconic book in mind : “Telex Iran”. The pictures were taken in a couple of month (Dec 1979 and Jan 1980) and all over Iran.I’ve rarely seen photography used in a such powerful way. I hope someone is still in Tunisia and that all photogs are not only on Tahrir square.

    Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 5:06 am | Permalink
  6. fredritchin wrote:

    In response to Giovanni’s post above, there are many iconic images that have emerged from revolutions. Tiananmen Square, for example, is thought of in terms of the image of the lone protester standing in front of the line of tanks; 1968 in France is the rock-throwing demonstrators, among others; the US civil rights movement is the police dog attacking protestors; the demonstrations against the War in Vietnam is the flower being put in the soldier’s gun, and so on. (This list is in no way complete.) The Iranian revolution was very effectively covered by a number of Iranian photographers (Abbas, Reza, etc.), as well as by foreigners such as David Burnett and Gilles Peress. In fact, Nightline, an American news program, began broadcasting every evening in response to the 444 days that American hostages were held at the Embassy in Tehran. The book by Peress, Telex: Iran, which has become a classic in the field, did not come out until considerably later. At the New York Times Magazine, where I was picture editor, we did publish his images in a photo essay but only several weeks after he had come back from Iran - it was not simultaneous, as we are seeing now.

    The question in Egypt and elsewhere is the filter for the imagery - who is selecting them, how are they being prioritized in terms of importance, symbolic or otherwise, and what is the role of the photographer in all of this. And why do we invest so little time, energy and money in knowing about regions of the world BEFORE they explode?

    Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  7. Giovanni DB wrote:

    The importance of imagery is intact even thought no “iconic” image came out of both revolutions (Tunisia and Egypt). Maybe it’s just a lack of an Iconic moment, or of a photographer (professional or not) in the right place at the right moment. Without pics and videos on facebook and twitter all of this wouldn’t have been possible. The “quality”of the imagery is becoming irrelevant if the content is valid. These revolutions wouldn’t have happened if like in Syria in 1982 the army could have made a massacre without images nor foreign witnesses.
    Said so As a photographer I’m frustrated as the best understanding I had, of what was happening, was through radio (in my case France Info or France Inter). Looking forward to see if later some pics come out of the lot.

    Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

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