Book Reviews -- Life's America: Family and Nation in Post-War Photojournalism by Wendy Kozol

Article excerpt

On page 45 of Wendy Kozol's book is a 7-1/2-inch by 9-1/2-inch black-and-white photograph by Frank Scherschel that appeared in Life on December 3, 1945. The image shows ten well-dressed people standing and sitting in a comfortable but crowded living room around a young soldier. The multiple shadows and semi-circular placement of the participants around the soldier suggest stage managing by the photographer. The faces of those assembled offer an intriguing mix of expressions: curiosity, pride, joy, scorn, naivet, boredom, envy and sadness. There seems to be no definite reason for pressing the shutter button other than the fact that the spotlighted soldier is turning to his left as if to hear a question from an off-frame participant. In brief, the image is a complex arrangement of graphic elements worthy of serious visual analysis.

It is one of twenty-six similar photographs in the book--with twenty-two of them highly manipulated, set-up pictures, which are curious choices for a photojournalism text. A printed photograph intended for a mass audience has many elements that must be considered in analysis--they include the caption, headline, body copy, placement and size, for example. Thus, a reader must be given the opportunity to not only view the photographs, but to see their context with words and design elements included.

Even Kozol admits, "Placement and size shape the visual order of the photo-essay, and in turn reinforce the social order promoted in this vision of domestic stability. …