Photographers' Blog

Looking Back, Looking Forward

March 23, 2009

MEMORY OF THE PRESENT

I have just received the first copy of the new book Our World Now 2. The title page reads “Executive Picture Editor: Ayperi Karabuda Ecer”. But besides pleasing my parents (my teenage daughter does not care), what does that mean?

On the one hand, everyone at Reuters is an editor. News flows between photographers, regional chiefs, global editors, picture deskers, keyworders and specialist editors. All are absolutely vital to deliver a daily output of some 1,700 images for the international media. My efforts are only in addition to what has already been produced.

On the other hand, within such a rich, global production there is no such thing as one final edit. Working with Reuters imagery is, like the book’s title, opening a window to our world now – it is live and constantly changing.

One can have many perspectives on that vision. My view is that although our photographers work to shoot that one standalone impact image, the important factor is that the sum of this collection is a stunning testimony of our times.

The book presents 370 images by 188 photographers of 60 nationalities. To reach this point, my colleague Jassim Ahmad and I, together with Kate Slotover and Amanda Vinnicombe from our publisher Thames & Hudson would regularly ambush a meeting room at our London offices and plaster the walls with images and evolving layouts.

In a book like this, the pictures need to do more than just work together visually. They must go beyond familiarity to surprise, enlighten, question and draw different responses. Through this process some really good images are lost and others emerge.

As you look through the book you will find many of our best news pictures. But it’s not always the most obvious ones that will succeed in achieving posterity. Through 12 years working as Editor in Chief at Magnum Paris, I learned how time changes perception of imagery and how new “winners” emerge.

Dallas, United States. 20 February 2008. Jessica Rinaldi

Today, Reuters distributes pictures of details that would never have been included in the past. In Jessica Rinaldi’s photograph of supporters reaching out to touch Obama’s hand, we perceive race, grace and hope. John Kolesidis’ image of the bleeding hand of a demonstrator perfectly sets the scene in Athens by reflecting tension, violence and social class. Small details can bring broad insight.

Athens, Greece. 9December 2008. John Kolesidis

As photographers you are lucky to be able to document the world. My advice is to treat your yearly production just as we have done in the book. Look back at your work and do your own “my world now” edit. Put aside what you like, keep sequences where they make sense, search for detail, even go through your very best family pictures. Over time they will crystallise and carry new value.

As an editor I am fortunate to be able to access such an incredible source of photography. I was recently a member of the World Press Photo awards jury. Whereas my fellow jurors were excited by the opportunity of looking at 30,000 images of international production, I thought this wasn’t far from what we have on our desks every day at Reuters.

Photography cannot explain the world, but it can do something extraordinary to inform you whilst appealing to your emotions.

Thomson Reuters is the world’s largest source of intelligent information. We seek to provide “knowledge to act”. One can argue that no significant decision can be made without emotion, and that emotion is key for a story to reach out to its audience.

Some days you, as photographers, don’t feel appreciated enough. Well, remember you are documenting history every day through every frame. This collector’s series, which builds year upon year, is your testimony for a memory of the present.

View images and spreads from the book Our World Now 2
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Comments
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I agree with your statement that “the important factor is that the sum of this collection is a stunning testimony of our times”. With so many good photographers now capturing all aspects of public life, we are accumulating an amazing pictorial record of our times. In the past, it was a handful of photos that characterized a span of time, now it’s hundreds of images, that when brought together, comprise a pictorial journal that will express to future generations the nature of our times.

 

“Some days you, as photographers, don’t feel appreciated enough. Well, remember you are documenting history every day through every frame.”This is something important to remember. And something I needed to be reminded of this week, when I’d been feeling a little unappreciated as a photographer – comments on my photo Blog had decreased to the point where I was questioning why I posted photos for so little feedback. Why not just keep them on my harddrive for my own viewing?You’ve managed to remind me why we bother to document the world around us, even with seemingly unremarkable, every day scenes.I’ve been lucky enough to live opposite the Stratford Olympic site for the last 6 months and have built up a collection of images of the stadium being built, often with beautiful sunsets in the background. When the stadium is finished and London welcomes the world for the Olympics in 2012, I’ll be able to look back and see my record of the 6 months in which I saw its creation. I wish I could document the whole building process, but I’m moving to a different part of London now.In effect, we’re chroniclers of history, when we consider the bigger picture. If people hadn’t taken photos of (at the time) “unremarkable” things, we’d never have photographs showing factory life in the 1900s, or trench photographs during WW1 and WW2. Images which at the time, were probably laughed at by those in the pictures. Yet now, are considered iconic. In 50 years time, will I look at my 6 month record of the Olympic stadium, and marvel at our building designs, compared to architecture in 2060?So thank you for the reminder of why I continue to not only photograph the world around me, but to share it with friends and strangers online.For the record, I think looking through the thousands of Reuters photos every day and compiling them into books would be among the best jobs going!

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