Monday, July 29, 2013

Once a journalist always a journalist - - - Jeff Guinn covers Charles Manson

Is he a journalist or a historian? Simply an author? Exec Editor Jim Witt in the Op-Ed page writes how Jeff Guinn was simply a reporter when he was hired to be city editor in 1986 and Witt thought there were better writers on the staff. Today Guinn has published 15 books and will launch Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson in New York City this week.
   I worked on the photo desk while Guinn was a reporter and then when he got "promoted" to the book editor I was pulled by technology to prepress. We both call ourselves journalists.
   Witt has to start off saying how he was never that impressed by Guinn's prose, there were other reporters who he thought wrote better. Jerry Flemmons was asked to write the official biography of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram found Amon Carter, Amon: the Texan who played cowboy for America published in 1998. When he retired after 33 years at the paper, he wanted to write, teach and fight cancer. I remember reading an interview he had with a young TCU journalism student who told him how much she admired his work and him responding how depressed he was that nobody remembered the stories he wrote. That the words were only read and remembered for a short time.

MOVE 1979, what was they real story? jgdomke photo
 Being a travel writer didn't make the contacts for a career change, being the book editor certainly helped Guinn's future.
   Flemmons was his own worst critic, but Guinn has found a niche.
   Reporting on old stories! ? ! Old news is interesting.
   Bringing back information from many sources and putting it all together, giving time for the people involved to think about it. A journalist turned historian.
   I was pulled into photojournalism because I saw it as recording history. It isn't like the weather, it's chronically life, capturing a moment, freezing it in a still photo so we can understand it. Today and in the future. I thought photos did it better than words. It was the truth.
   But here the truth is shown to take time, sure the basic facts are interesting, but words pull it all together.
   Guinn is now working on telling stories of more recent events, events also covered by photojournalists. I hope he adds photos to help tell the story. Apparently the cover photo for the Manson book is an early school yearbook photo? I hope they have some family snapshots, too. I wonder if some newspapers can dig back and bring back some feature photos and maybe find some photos that have never before been published.
   There are a lot of photos, taken by pros, whether freelance magazine or newspaper photographers that didn't make the daily paper. They shouldn't be forgotten, or lost, these photos still tell the story. More so now that we, the reader, knows all the facts.
   Civil Rights pictures taken by Flip Schulke were viewed more in 2000's according to Schulke than when they were taken in early 60's.
    We are seeing how today's news doesn't go away. it's interesting to look back and pull all the pieces together. Not just words, but old photos can be seen and understood differently. Really tell a story and SEE what they have to say.
  As Guinn has discovered, " real history is more fascinating than fiction."
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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Being at the right place at the right time

It opened in 2010 in Los Angles, but Alfred Wertheimer's exhibit of photos taken of Elvis Presley has come to Fort Worth and got a Op/Ed write-up by the Star-Telegram executive editor Jim Witt. Several things make it unique, this may have been the only time a photographer got 24/7 access to Elvis, time makes the images even more powerful and it takes luck.
   Wertheimer tells how he was just starting out in 1957 and shared an apartment with two other photographers. One roommate, Paul Schutzer was trying to get his foot in door at the weekly LIFE magazine. The PR photos of a singer wasn't as important as an assignment from LIFE magazine, so he passed it along to his roommate. Wertheimer didn't have any conflicts and gladly took the assignment, but was offered a choice in what he'd be paid.
   The assignment was with RCA records, who along with paying for film and processing offered to pay a day-rate of $300, and they would get copyright and exclusive use, OR they'd by just $50/day and Wertheimer kept ownership of the negatives. Wertheimer didn't know who this new singer was, but he didn't want to give up his artists rights and worked for $50 (plus expenses). It was several days and wasn't that bad in the 50's.
   What's interesting is how he kept the negatives and went on to become a documentary film cameraman. Schutzer went on to become a staff photographer at LIFE covering major news around the world and ended up getting killed in 1967 covering the Six Day War in Israel. Photos people wanted to see that week, but not that interesting 40 years later.
   Wertheimer's pictures of Elvis are worth seeing. They last and although he took lots of other photos the Elvis photos are the only ones anyone wants to see. Retiring from film, he spends his time filling the interest in seeing the pictures, selling to other pubs, doing his own books, selling prints and exhibitions. Reminds me of Andre Kertesz who brought out his old photos taken when he was in his 20s in Paris and after he retired as a staff photographer for House and Garden in 1960, he started having shows. People looked at them differently. Not to go in a publication but just as photos documenting a period. A variety of scenes in Paris and then in New York City in the 1930's when he was freelancing.
Photo by JG Domke - 1973 San Francisco
  Do you need to wait forty years and go back to look at the photos? What do they tell? Was it a passing event, or captures the era? I was in San Francisco and they were very active in speaking out against the Vietnam War. I was working for the San Francisco Examiner covering the events, but they didn't want to save the negatives of anti-war protesters. I kept the negatives, theses are my pictures. 

But what does it say, is it simply old news or is it art? Save your photos, you never know.

P.S. - As far as roommates go they were on the cutting edge: Schutzer makes it onto the Life staff, Wertheimer captures Woodstock in 1968 and other documentaries. 
Photo by JG Domke 1973

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Photojournalism started when?

Excuse me, but I think you're wrong when you give Mathew Brady credit for founding photojournalism on the CBS Sunday Morning show (7-7-2013). But photography was the cutting edge, must have item in the 1860s. Like the smart phone today. Still photos are still here, but have been replaced, or have they?

My old clan around 1900, archiving the family
Running over to my bookcase filled with books on photography I find that the first photojournalists, or reporter photographers, go way back to the 1850s with the invention of the photogravure and get photos published! That's photojournalism.

Readers got to see what's happening rather than just read about it. Real pictures showing what the land was really like. (It does take a lot of effort and type setting is also all done by hand. A large publication had 15 pages.) Slow shutter, slow film speed, meant that people moving disappeared.

Today with the cellphone we always have a camera with us, back then it took hours to shoot and develop a print. Now only seconds to share it with the world.

But the still photo isn't totally useless, or obsolete,  with all the wonderful detail, they are preserved. Historical images of the past that we still take today.

Roger Fenton in 1853 photographed the Crimean War for the London Illustrated News and Il Fotografo in Milan.

Photography was a real big deal from the start, it showed what words couldn't describe, and for many in the mid-1800's it was a way to stay close to family. People carried the photos with them, like the cell phone today. But today it rarely is a big deal. We are flooded with photos.

Editors saw how they had instant impact for publications, and the still photo by itself let people stay close to their loved ones.

It also immortalized time, preserved the moment for history. Looking at old movies and I'm left want to know more, the images just fly by, there's no time to study what people in the videos are wearing, hairdos, or what the buildings looked like.

I read in my old Photojournalism textbook, by professor Clif Edom, that photojournalism came with the invention of the halftone screen and the ability to stop action. Edom claims, photos of Lincoln had to then be converted by hand to wood plates if a publication wanted an illustration to go along with the words. He doesn't see Mathew Brady as a photojournalist.

Engraving photos was discovered in the late 1870's and the first halftone with "graded lines" was created by Stephen Horgan but didn't get into wide use till the 1920's.

In The Techique of the Picture Story by LOOK magazine editor Daniel Mich  and art director Edwin Eberman published in 1945 they nail down "four basic uses of pictures." Something that still applies in the digital age.

1.) Illustration for text. This is what I see too often in many web stories. The photo is simply an illustration to show there is a story. Clip-art or photos used as illustration  "dress up the printed page . . .they increase readership, But, so used they are merely adjuncts to words."  Too much of the photography on the web is simply "adjuncts to words." (They show a posed photo of a couple in front of a fireplace to illustrate teenage sex.)

2.) Picture-text combination. This is where the storytelling is done by related pictures, which in the case of LOOK magazine a team worked on the story using several pictures, lengthy captions and a designer to layout the pages. Today the slide show has replaced the picture page. In the page layout they combined "related photos." Grouping a couple of photos together that showed a detail or overall view of the main photo. Doesn't work in an online slide show. (They're example shows how blood Plasma saves an airman's life.)

3.) Pure Picture Stories. Requiring no text. "They are seldom obtained by chance; the photographer and his subjects almost always owe their fortunate relationship to the planning and arranging" of the assignment editor or writer. (Illustration? Example shows dancers doing "shine steps.")

4.) Picture stories within text stories. Combines a combination of item #1 with #2 "For the role of the text is to help the pictures tell their story with utmost effectiveness and to blend with them into integrated narrative containing as many facts as space permits."  Now with the Internet there is no space restriction! (Shows an article 25 years of growth in Russia!? They go on and define continuity as "a scenario for a motion picture."

They had to take into consideration how it took time to layout and print the magazine. A news photo wouldn't be news a month later. The picture story had to have interest that transcends spot news, picture impact, sharp focus, focus on people (opposed to things) and universal interest.

Technology has evolved and the still photo no longer shows us what we've never seen before, the video camera shows the fire, the approaching tornado, the winning touchdown better than a still photo. But the still photo keeps the memory alive.