A century and a half in the life of the world, as recorded by its most daring witnesses.
By Carol Squiers
Art Director: Mark Gartland
Long before photojournalists trained their cameras on wars and other, less violent events, a journalistic visual tradition already existed; the first narrative scenes of warfare were incised on the walls of a Middle Eastern palace nearly 3,000 years ago. The invention of photography simply gave this inclination an enormous boost. In 1873 the development of photo‑mechanical printing techniques made it possible for photographic images to be printed in newspapers and illustrated magazines for distribution to a mass audience. This new form of visual reportage was intended to inform, astonish, and even entertain, and over time it became what is now known as photojournalism.
Tracing the history of photojournalism is no easy matter, because since the 1920s, when photojournalism came into its own, photo historians have disagreed on the exact nature and boundaries of the form. Could a single picture of a news event be thought of as photojournalism? Or are photo essays the only true form of journalistic photography? Such questions are nearly as confounding as that most basic of journalistic queries: What is news?
Those, however, are precisely the kinds of questions explored in a new book, Eyes of Time: Photojournalism in America, published by the New York Graphic Society. Eyes of Time, compiled by George Eastman House curator Marianne Fulton (see page 45), looks back at 150 years of visual reporting through the work of some 200 photographers. What emerges from this massive survey is a history of the world as measured by its highest and lowest points‑the drama of disaster, of war, of great achievements. Indeed, photographers and viewers have long had a fascination with such events; daguerreotypes exist of occurrences like the 1842 fire that devastated Hamburg, Germany, the riots of native Americans in Philadelphia in 1844, and the Mexican-American War of 1846.
Since' the 1870s, we've taken for granted that we could actually see the world's news events unfolding. And we've also become accustomed to seeing the world the way photojournalists do -as drama, as conflict. From Mathew Brady to Margaret Bourke‑White, from Robert Capa to Susan Meiselas and James Nachtwey, the photographers who witness riot and insurrection are the ones whose pictures we remember. For that reason, curator Fulton has focused her book on hard‑news imagery, thus providing at least one notion of what constitutes photojournalism.
On the next ten pages, American Photographer looks at selected images from Eyes of Time. We've arranged the photographs in groups that reflect major themes in hard‑news coverage, from war to assassinations to daily life. These pictures speak to a broad range of issues, including the yearning for liberty, the plight of the weak, the posturings of the strong. A picture cannot end a war or stop a disaster from occurring. But it can help us to remember and, through its depiction of human existence, inspire us to understand the world.
DOWN HERE ON THE GROUND
In 1829 an anonymous photographer took a picture of a table set for a meal, thereby launching one of the richest but most underrated subjects for photojournalism: the activities of everyday life. For many people, though, the most valuable portrayals of everyday events are the pictures they snap for their own family albums. People preserve the exalted moments of their own lives and don't necessarily find the daily victories and foibles of others as compelling. But journalistic photographs of work, play, or homespun rituals can help us understand the occurrences and values of ordinary life. Harlan A. Marshall's 1917 picture of a huge American flag woven by mill workers in Manchester, New Hampshire (above), depicts strong feelings of patriotism. But daily life can also mean hardship, as portrayed in Angel Franco's 1986 image of a handcuffed juvenile in a New York police squad room (above left). For many, everyday life is a terrifying process of bare survival and early death, as shown in Mary Ellen Mark's photo made in famine‑stricken Ethiopia in 1985 (left). For a lucky few, daily life can include the extraordinary, as it did in 1969 when astronaut‑photographer Neil Armstrong snapped astronaut Edwin Aldrin (right) walking on the moon.