Wednesday, January 06, 2010

In the beginning was the picture...

By John Cheeran
Conventional wisdom has it that a picture speaks better than thousand words. May be, may be not. A picture without context can often be mere light and shade, arresting in its imagery but failing in its objective to inform and provoke those who pause to gaze.
Providing context to pictures is its own reward. The job description can at best be compared with the man who hammers the last nail to the coffin to ensure that the ghost does not walk free when deadlines crawl across to newsroom. A well-written caption is the last and most comfortable resting place for a well-shot picture.
Pictures are not paintings. Everything that goes with journalism is pure craft and despite the long rope of subjectivity you cannot but be clear in your words and images that are offered to the reader out there. Hence, photojournalism is no art. It is a craft that requires painstaking gathering of information of about the subjects that enter the viewfinder, so that we could be those, who know what we are doing. So we can escape forgiveness in the morning.
Artists can afford to be lazy, independent, and muddled headed. Artists can always blame those who stopped by to look at their work, for not having got the message right. In journalism, the blame rests with journalists, not with readers.
The man who hammers the nail into photographs in a newspaper does not have a large enough peg to hang his words. A sutradhar is not supposed to rewrite the script of the play but he only provides the context so that spectators are able to appreciate the nuances behind the unfolding images.
A caption writer aims to illuminate pictures with sufficient and relevant information so that they are truly worth more than a thousand words, if not more. Photojournalists are not the best of writers, but great communicators. In an age when reporters are allowed by editors to assume that their role in journalism is to write stories with the freedom and verve that were once the preserve of fiction writers, photojournalists are the only people who turn up at a news event, wait for the right moment to bring back with the defining moment of the day. Captions only strive to encapsulate the background and take the story forward. Assuming that St. John would forgive me, let me walk away by saying, in the beginning was the picture and the picture was with the page.

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