Answer To One Peer
February 17, 2018
End of Life Legal Issue
February 24, 2018

Task: Analyze an Award-Winning Example of Photojournalism

Task: Analyze an Award-Winning Example of Photojournalism

Quest Overview

Why is this assignment titled “Thirsty Images?”  While designing this project I had in my mind the old Sprite advertising slogan: “Image is Nothing.  Obey Your Thirst.”  And it got me thinking.  In terms of news reporting the opposite often seems to be true: the image is everything.  Especially for the broadcast and electronic media, text copy is nothing without an accompanying visual (think, for example, of the well established, and largely pointless, practice of having network reporters do “stand ups” in front of the White House, or local news doing “live” scene reports at scenes where there is no longer anything happening).
But I riffed on the Sprite slogan in another way.  News images are also “thirsty” images.  Not only do they often suck us in, powerfully, but they draw to themselves other images, other cultural associations.  They usually don’t have a single meaning, and the more you look, the more there seem to be layers of meaning.  They mean different things to different people.  They remind you of other images.
This assignment will focus on the ethics, aesthetics, and cultural contexts of news photography.  It will require you to select at least one example of photojournalism and analyze it in depth.  The assignment will also require you to engage with at least one of the articles we are discussing for this unit, and use your exploration of that authors ideas to develop a critical framework that you will use to help analyze the structure and significance of the image you have chosen.
Image is Everything.  Obey your Thirst.
Warning: This assignment will involve looking at some very disturbing and upsetting images.  They will prompt a visceral reaction from all of us.  Our task will be to account for those reactions (or, alternatively, a lack of reaction), to honor those feelings, but also to move beyond them.  You will also have to deal with what is probably the most challenging aspect of these images: many of the “best” (most effective?  most moving?) news images often juxtapose scenes of total horror with a formal beauty.

Goals and Due Dates

This assignment is designed to ensure that you:

  • Understand the concepts of rhetoric, rhetorical situation, and the role played by audience, writer/speaker, and conversational context in an act of communication;
  • Understand the implications of genre both for critical analysis and effective writing.
  • that you are able to undertake sophisticated analysis of both print and image sources;
  • that you can structure an engaging, articulate argument.

Beyond the writing goals, the assignment is designed to raise a number of issues for consideration that will help you with later assignments in this course:

  • the consequences of American journalistic norms (objectivity, balance, etc.);
  • the way in which US and European news media portray the inhabitants of other countries;
  • the relationship between news coverage, propaganda and entertainment;
  • the power and influence of images in our culture

The knowledge that you acquire from this assignment will help you in other writing projects in this course and in other classes:

  • Establishing a critical framework for analysis is a skill you will use in the research project;
  • Sometimes a framework will be called for explicitly in an assignment for another class even if the assignment doesn’t label it as such (anything that asks you to take the ideas of one source and use them to analyze other events, issues, or sources is calling for a critical framework). However, even if the assignment doesn’t call for it explicitly, using a framework analysis is a great way to “punch up” your work because it shows that you are capable of using the ideas of others (to develop your own thoughts, to critique other ideas) rather than simply describing what others have said;
  • Our world is increasingly one where images and words interact in ever more complex and unpredictable ways. This assignment helps you begin to think about some of those connections and you will be able to use that knowledge in other areas of your academic and professional careers;

Due Dates
Working Draft:
 Wednesday, February 3 by midnight (online)
Final Draft: Wednesday, February 10 by midnight (online)
Length: Four pages, double-spaced, minimum.

XP Rewards

Gold: 8,000 points
Silver: 6,000 points
Bronze: 4,000 points

Detailed Quest Instructions

For this assignment you will be selecting an image that will serve as the basis of your analysis.  What makes a “good” image for this assignment?  This could be an image that provokes any or all of the following responses:

  • it provokes a strong emotional response from you;
  • alternatively, it doesn’t provoke any strong response from you, even if it seems as if it should;
  • an image that intrigues or disturbs you, but for reasons that you can’t initially explain;
  • an image with a strong aesthetic component (i.e. the composition, lighting, colors, etc.)
  • an image where the aesthetic elements and what is being depicted seem a at odds with one another
  • an image that makes you angry
  • an image that surprises you

In practice I would avoid any photo where you look at it and your first thought is “Ah, yes, I totally get it.”  Good critical analysis arises from our need to explore aspects of our experience that dont make sense at first glance. I would also suggest having a shortlist of images to work with, in case analyzing one doesn’t initially prove to be as fruitful as you anticipated.
Choosing an Image
This may seem like a daunting task at first given that thousands of new examples of photojournalism are generated each day in the US alone.  To simplify this process, therefore, you will be selecting from among those images that have received a national or international photojournalism award.  If an image has received such an honor it is a reasonably safe assumption that (photo) journalists consider it to be a fine example of the best aspects of their professional craft.  This makes these images particularly appropriate for an analysis that tries to determine how they represent specific assumptions and practices of the news media.  Bear in mind that examples of photojournalism may be honored for a wide variety of reasons: for the aesthetic qualities of the image, for the difficulty and/or danger the photojournalist experienced in getting the image, because the image depicts an unusual or hitherto unknown subject, for the social impact of the image. . .or sometimes for all of these factors.
The image that you select does not have to be one that explicitly concerns armed conflict.  The focus of this assignment is developing your writing by asking you to analyze the role of images in the news media and in our perceptions.  For that purpose most news images will do.  You should instead consider how rich you find the image: do you think it will provide you with the opportunity to develop ideas that will be interesting both to you and to someone else?
Note: Some of these competitions have multiple categories; you are concerned only with those dealing with news photography.
Image Sources
1) The Pulitzer Prize website:  A couple of things to be aware of here.  First, the website only includes access to images from 1995 to the present (with some exceptions; e.g. Feature Photography).  Also be aware that in some years the prize is awarded to individual images, and in other years it is awarded for a portfolio of work; sometimes it goes to individual photographers, sometimes to a group.  You can use any of the images that you find on the website, except for the ones we use in class.  Even if the website doesn’t have the images, it does tell you who won for a particular year, so you may be able to Google those images from elsewhere on the Web.
I will place on reserve a copy of a book called Capture the Moment.  This is a catalog to an exhibit organized by the Newseum (a fabulous DC resource which we will be visiting later in the semester).  It contains a more comprehensive collection of the Pulitzer Prize photographs, many of them in a large image format which make them ideal for study.  This exhibit used to exist in a very accessible online format; sadly, now that the exhibit itself is touring various US cities, the online version seems to have been shuttered.
2) The World Press Photo contest has been running since 1955, and their site includes an archive of all the winning photos, some of which will probably be familiar to you (there are a couple that overlap with the Pulitzer).
3) Pictures of the Year International, run by the Missouri School of Journalism, is now in its  72nd year.   They offer awards across several categories, and their site includes an archive.
A Walkthrough for Epic Quest 1
Step 1: Choosing an Image.
First off, you should NOT pick the first image in a google search for “photojournalism” or “famous photographs.” Image analysis is possible for virtually any image, but it’s relatively much easier for you to write about an image you find personally interesting. Go through online catalogues of award-winning pieces of photojournalism and look for things that disgust you, shock you, draw you in or even draw you away. By having an emotional response to an image you are subconsciously recognizing that that particular image has a power in your eyes, and if you can recognize that power immediately you are probably going to be intrigued sufficiently to look into the overall significance and meaning contained in that image. In other words, let your emotions guide you (initially).
Step 2: Find the context.
Now that you got the emotional part out of the way, now for some book learning (really nowadays it’s laptop learning but the concept applies). It’s crucial that you find the context of the photograph–the time, place, the scene. For my Epic Quest I found an image of a Kosovar woman crying for her dead husband. I then looked up the history of the Kosovo war, the army her husband was fighting for, and what the photographer was doing in Kosovo at the time. Context will allow you to better understand the significance of the image and provide you with a good starting point for analysis, the key part of the whole assignment.
Step 3: Get Analyzing!
Now that you know more about the image, you can start picking it apart. Consider as many photographic elements (focus, angles, colors, lighting, allusions, symbols, etc.) as you think are relevant to that image. And ALWAYS remember that nearly EVERY element of a particular photo was the result of a choice made by the photographer. No photograph was ever destined to be of a certain person or at a certain moment; decisions were made, consciously or not. So look deeply into the photograph and start to contemplate your own interpretation of your image. Having trouble with that? Look again.
Step 4: Making Your Argument.
Now you can start with your introduction, which will mostly be composed your argument. Remember that you argument must be valid, which isn’t the same as being true. A valid argument must have three qualities; it must be specific, contestable (if you can’t argue it, it’s not an argument) and substantive.
Specificity is a major reason why context is necessary–if you know the specific history behind an image, it becomes much easier to make a claim specific to your particular image. To test if the argument is vague, try inserting another photograph in place of your own when writing the sentences (note the plural!) devoted to your argument. If the argument still holds up, then it is much too vague.
For contestability, you need to make sure that you actually have an argument on your hands as opposed to a statement or fact. To help, consider if a reasonable person can make an argument refuting your claim (of course, any tinfoil-wearing paranoiac worth his salt can refute anything, so always remember the reasonable part).
The element of substance is probably the most tricky element, since it boils down to the question “Why should people give a damn about this claim?” While in your mind anything you happen to argue should be considered as important, that is not always the case. Again this a place where context would particularly help. If the conflict or natural disaster relevant to the image was influential in history (as it assuredly was), then it must have consequences that still reverberate to this day. For instance, the photos of the My Lai Massacre were taken 45 years ago, but the consequences of that massacre and the influence it had on the Vietnam War are still relevant to how American wars are covered today.
Step 5: Back it up!
Once you elaborate on your argument, now your need to back it up with evidence. Since you have already done a good amount of analysis, gather all that you think is relevant (which will likely be more than you need) and start to group them to create a logical flow. Consider taking all relevant observations of lighting in the image with thoughts on the use of color, for instance. Then flesh out the analysis with relevant connections to your claims and provide a little background into how you came to certain observations or how you recognized certain allusions. This should provide for most of the needed body of the essay.
Step 6: Don’t just walk away.
DO NOT SIMPLY REPEAT WHAT YOU SAID IN THE INTRODUCTION OF THE PAPER AT THE END! This is totally a waste of time and a waste of space. Use the ending for your advantage to keep you audience interested to the very end. Do in fact introduce new ideas in your conclusion, for instance, particularly those that ties various ideas and thoughts in the body together. This is also a great place to elaborate on the substance part of the argument, and remind people that they should in fact care about this topic even after they finish reading. There is no need for a “full circle conclusion”–your only goal at this point is to leave your audience thinking and hopefully agreeing with you.

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