FMS85C Week 9: Reality in the Sensationalization of Photojournalism

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The ability to convey so much information, history, emotion and whatever message an artist chooses to present can be made present through the art of photojournalism. As a medium that captures raw, and sometimes unraw, moments in life, it can often have an entirely humanitarian effect that brings closer issues to home. Richard Avedon is at the front of that movement, as he is famous for defining “America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century” (Richard Avedon).

Avedon’s pictures may seem entirely simple and minimalist, which may be true, but his photographs convey much more than a simple point-and-shoot. He had an eye for capturing his subjects in as raw and vulnerable of states as he could, somehow getting them to put their barriers down at one point, as Matthew Soar quotes of Kazloff, “‘The subjects are understood to be engaged with (or are caught in) nothing more than an unschooled or archaic attempt to comport themselves, which they more or less fumble, thus revealing their actual character'” (Image Ethics in the Digital Age, “The Advertising Photography of Richard Avedon and Sebastiao Salgado,” 275).

The idea of laying bare subjects in advertising gives a photograph a genuine and sincere feel. Although these photographs were meant to be both genuine and also for ad campaigns, it is hard to tell whether it was either. It is further quoted, “‘The image is real: I have included everything the camera saw; I have even left technical evidence of my working process that would normally be hidden from view.’ (Of course, such a visual gesture is also akin to a magician pulling up his cuffs and turning both his hands over to show his audience that he has nothing hidden “up his sleeve.” It is a mere ritual, performative gesture)” (278).

Manipulating subjects into baring their souls seems very in-genuine, yet, the images Avedon was able to produce through this provided such beautiful photographs of the faces of American culture. Photos for advertising today do not seem to have this pure rawness, as advertising and commercialism has seemed to glorify all of today’s consumer products now. I believe the idea that Avedon was trying to get at through his photographs, especially for his Levi’s campaigns, was to make accessible Levi’s products to all of America’s social classes–not just the upper class. Contrary to today, Levi’s, among other consumer companies, seems to glorify their products with professional models that make America’s everyday consumers strive to become like the models on print, rather than revealing a genuine, humane truth of America. Commercial advertising has gone so far to make their products seem over-exaggeratedly glorious that we have almost put the other half of American society in the dark. Only a small percentage of America appears like they do in commercial photographs, that photojournalism in commercial advertising simply does not exist anymore.

Yet, as Avedon, seemingly, provided a raw image of American culture in his time, perhaps commercial advertisers are providing a raw image of America’s over-sensationalized consumerism, in that we have reached a point in our history that refuses to draw attention to real humanitarian causes, but rather, the ideal of the “self” that needs to be pleased and worked upon to strive to become the ones we see on magazine ads.

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