a place for sharing all things photographic and some things not

Knowing your history, photographically.

While some of us might have dropped the subject as early on as we could’ve, history is still a very integral part of photography as well as photojournalism. (History itself is quite important, but that’s for another time.) Knowing the images that have defined photojournalism and brought it to what it is now is probably one of the best things you can do for your photographic education. Aside from throwing around big names that everyone knows, it’s just as important to be able to recall photos from your memory, not only because you can reframe them in the modern context but also so that it’s possible to visualize and understand what goes into a great photo.

And aside from all that, it’s great fun being able to look at new work and go ‘I’ve seen that before’ or something like that.

One of the most prominent instances of this (which was also quite recent) was the reproduction of the famous Iwo Jima image.

Image by Joe Rosenthal

Just about anyone has seen this landmark image, and something like this came right out of the aftermath of 9/11.

Image by Thomas E Franklin

while the two images are not necessarily identical in composition, the idea is present in both. The tilted flagpole at an angle coming up from the same side of the frame. The presence of Americans in both images and of course, Old Glory perched right atop both flagpoles.

The editor who chose the 9/11 image as the front page cover of the next day’s news article said he selected the image to give American audiences a sense of hope and repair after all the trauma that had occurred; chillingly similar to the sentiments reflected in the earlier photo.

As if to reflect the importance of flags, there is yet another image which is quite important for it’s time.

Image by Yevgeny Khaldei

This photo is by Yevgeny Khaldei and it’s another one of the iconic images of history. Once again the use of the flag as a symbol of national pride, as well as the importance of it being taken over the Reichstag during the fall of Berlin.

It’s interesting to note that in all 3 images the flags are at a set angle and the individuals are all men from a certain sector of society. All the images were produced at a significant point in history (although there are years in between them).

Another case of striking similarity that I noticed was from Don McCullin’s work.

 image by Don McCullin

It brought to mind this image from last year

Image by Rich Lam

This was taken during last year’s Vancouver riots and all the controversy aside, visually the images are remarkably alike.

So what does this mean?

Well for one, knowing the visual history of photojournalism is extremely useful for being able to summon up images/work to mind would be helpful for any photographer who was teaching others or trying to evaluate his own work.

But that aside, imagine if you could take a shot which not only had contextual significance and visual power, but also had a layer of historical visual similarities to go along with it. What a powerful image it would be.

Across the course of history, there have been several images that have been burnt into the collective human consciousness and if you were able to bring elements from previously impressive images into your own work, you’d be creating things at a much higher level.

And why not? There are so many images in the world which still can be mirrored and brought into today’s context.

Image by Dorothea Lange

Image by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Just to show a few. If you’re looking to discover more works by renowned photographers and iconic images of the ages, spend some time trawling the web for them. Better yet, buy one of the many anthologies available just to get a feel of what our past is made up of, visually.


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