Posted by Megan
Picturing tragedy and disaster is a Photo Editor’s toughest, and most important job.
Many of the world’s most iconic or most remembered images are from events laden with injury, pain and death, and bringing those images into public awareness is always a deeply thought-out process. It’s very likely your mind can conjure the highly-circulated images from the London bombing, September 11th, the tsunami, or even the IRA bombing in Brighton. The images become evocative of the events and the surrounding questions; some images – like those from Normandy Beach during World War II, or the lone man standing in Tainanman Square – become symbols of history, itself.
In the next week and coming months, as the repercussions of what officials are calling the ‘nation’s worst gun rampage’ begin to unfold, pictures of the events will no doubt become iconic in their own way. Some will see them as a reminder of America’s lax gun laws, a witness of poor security and police duties, or even a glimpse into the dark American psyche. Regardless of the reasons, as the story marks a terrible milestone for US history, and the questions start to build, the pictures begin to inhabit a life of their own.
Yesterday and today, it was our job as the homepage team to decide how, when and where those pictures were going to be used.
News of the shootings broke late yesterday afternoon, and shortly thereafter video and imagery began to come through wire services. While confusion seemed to illustrate itself inside tilted, blurry frames, the truth about the events soon became clear: this was the worst shooting rampage the US had ever seen, and we needed to bring that news, swiftly and accurately, to our readers.
The most powerful pictures, namely those of police carrying victims from Norris Hall which featured on many of today’s front pages, were not delivered through the wire services until late last night or this morning, so choices were limited. Ian produced a slide featuring one such picture, which did well in showing the gravity of the shootings, and the confusion involved. The picture shows the police carrying at least two victims, walking out in a strangely-formed queue, across a large patch of grass. It is this picture – a nicely tended lawn, clean stone building and quaint lamp posts contrasting with clearly distressed victims and policeman – that will perhaps become this event’s most remembered image.
Once the story began to develop this morning, however, we questioned how best to portray what was happening. Time-difference aside, we wanted our coverage to be very news-oriented and of-the-minute. We decided to change our slide at each large development in the story, which totalled 4 times, starting with 2 images of candlelit vigils taken yesterday evening. These, to me, were a sort-of “holding breath” imagery, as the tragedy had sunk in but the questions were still unanswered. As morning broke in the US, our picture changed to reflect the many large developments in the story, which we thought was best illustrated by the hospital CEO surrounded by journalists at a press conference. By then, which was this afternoon, our News Editor, Tom, finished an in-depth piece on America’s plague of school shootings. Here is where we decided – after deliberation about whether or not to include the well-known picture of the Columbine shooters (with their massive guns) – to show a deeper sense of emotion, through students quietly hugging on that same well-tended lawn.
In this story, unlike so many others, there was little possibility of offending people by showing images containing injury or death. The images were far-enough away that we felt they removed a feeling of unease, so this was less of a debate for us. In many other circumstances, especially when showing Iraq war, showing images of death or injury becomes a large issue. While, yes, many of those images can disgust or offend people, they can also serve as true indicators of the situation’s gravity, and witnesses to crimes. On the homepage, we aim our content towards a U-rated audience. This means we don’t generally show injury, death, guns, cigarettes, or any other imagery that could upset children or other vulnerable readers. Still, when it comes to an event of such seriousness, we always reserve our right to deliberate. We ask: does this image need to be shown? Is there another way to illustrate this without offending people? What does this picture do for this story?