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"¡El Mundo es Recto!": Composition and Newspaper esthetics

(NB: I am posting this a second time because the original post wont open up. Still a lot of glitches in our coding it seems.)


I just got back from a rather grueling but interesting four day shoot covering the senatorial elections in San Francisco de Macoris, a politically “hot” town that saw a bit of violence during an otherwise legit electoral process. At one point I went almost 4o hours without sleep. The writer I was paired with was a seasoned reporter and knew his stuff, even if he had no clue about how to work with a photographer or create a kind of team spirit (and for Domincans this is unusual,as they are generally very companionable). We tracked down quite a lot of leads and I got something like 8 or 9 separate publications out of it (which added nothing to my wallet, but at least our work was esteemed above the rest). Plus I got to see political life here from the inside, and palled around with the ex-vice president and a bunch of VIPs in both major parties. It will give me superb material to write about later. Just the window on class relations here that the experience opened for me was worth the price of admission.


However, one thing struck me. Aside from the fact that it has been a very long time since I did any newspaper work and had completely forgotten the principles that rule this kind of shooting, and the fact that my command of the language was stretched to the limit (particularly due to sleep deprivation), I was particularly struck by the kind of conservative compositional ideas that rule the editors’ thinking at these kind of places. I imagine that in fact it is not so different outside my little island here, that news editors have the same requirements everywhere, but acquaintance with cutting edge photography from the major agencies certainly must have loosened up their thinking in those places where the editors are aware of what is going on in the photo world, what marks the best photography these days, etc. Here, unfortunately, though all the editors at the newspaper are Spaniards (no dumb mongrel niggers or mere photographers are allowed to exercise intellectual authority at this place—the colonialist attitude is still alive and well here), and supposedly aware of the outside world, there is in fact very little consciousness of photo trends or the fact that photography has become quite an exciting thing lately with all kinds of new forms and esthetic ideas. Now this is no cheap little paper; on the contrary, it is a very modern and hip outfit, which puts out a weekly paper as well as a 24/7 digital version, well in advance of its competitors here with pretty intelligent coverage. Plus they have bought for their photographers the most expensive nikons and kit. But I was dumbfounded and very frustrated by the views of the writers and editors. They had no idea of what makes a good photo, and as a consequence the photography is generally pretty boring. These are people who have never heard of Magnum, and sadly though there is photographic talent here, it cannot develop without sustained contact with outside ideas.


The thing that really got to the main editor here was my penchant for diagonally oriented compositions and the fact that bits and pieces of people exist at the margins of some of my photographs. I happen to like this because I like to break the rigidity of the frame and suggest that the world continues outside the frame. And if you think this is a mannerism or silly eccentricity, let me remind you that it is a very old compositional principle and in fact is a constituent element of Oriental rugs of all types (I have learned alot from analyzing oriental rugs!). And diagonal lines should pose no problem, even if the overall plan of a tabloid is vertically and horizontally oriented. We do this all the time and there are photographers who have made a habit of shooting in this manner (kratochvil among them), though I dont. I change it up all the time. Anyway, the editor kept fussing, “el mundo es recto, es la norma, vertical y horizontal, y el periódico también es recto.” the world is made of verticals and horizontals and this is how we see things. Well, needless to say, I dont! And I admit this has frustrated other editors as well. But the moment of truth came when the editor pointed at one of my “normal” compositions and admitted that it was “boring” by its very rectilinear nature. Well, if there was ever a moment in which one’s habitual thinking prevented one from seeing the real truth, this was it. Because we were under a tight deadline and I didnt want to argue, I let it slide, but I felt like pointing out that if the rectilinear composition is boring, then why are we insisting on it for our readers? Are we out to bore them or grab their attention? And if a radically different composition manages to do the latter, then why buck the trend? How can you be so blind to your own best interests and higher purpose? Interestingly, in the weekly issue that summed up the election coverage, this editor gave himself four full pages of photographs, all of them rectilinear and all of them very boring indeed.


Btw, I shot everything with my little Olympus C7070, and the shots were superb. I wouldnt recommend this kind of camera for such jobs, but I am pleased with its performance (all JPG, no RAW, of course). Because of the low ISO, many of my night shots, all without flash, were taken at extremely slow exposures, and while I am used to doing this, I would have killed for the ability to shoot at 800 ISO and get clean files. On the other hand, the camera performed superbly and because of its unimposing appearance I was able to get shots of situations that would otherwise have gotten me arrested or beaten up.

by Jon Anderson at 2006-05-19 22:11:45 UTC (ed. Jun 24 2006 ) Back Home , Dominican Republic | Bookmark | | Report spam→


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Jon Anderson, Photographer & Writer Jon Anderson
Photographer & Writer
Ocala Florida , United States


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