American Photojournalism Comes of Age

By Bass, Sharon | Journalism History, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

American Photojournalism Comes of Age


Bass, Sharon, Journalism History


Carlebach, Michael L. American Photojournalism Comes of Age. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997. 217 pp. $29.95.

This history of photojournalism focuses roughly on 1880 to 1936, beginning with the invention of the halftone and ending with the launch of Life and Look. Michael Carlebach, a documentary photographer and professor in the School of Communications at the University of Miami, provides just what the title promises: a description of photojournalism coming of age in this country.

He gives the reader a picture of the period, almost with a "day-inthe-life" feel to it: the reluctance to accept new technology, the fear that the product might be degraded, the insatiable appetite for pictures from the viewing audience, and the need for speed and exclusivity among publishers (both in print and video).

Most important, the book is not limited to technological developments. It looks at photojournalism as part of the journalistic enterprise. Sometimes photojournalism is the stepchild, sometimes it is the obnoxious relative, and sometimes it is able to be a full and worthy partner to the words, the reporter, and the editor.

Carlebach begins with a look at the turn of the century when the photographer was seldom credited for his work, and when editors and publishers were fearful about reproducing a photograph through the halftone process, believing that the hand-rendered engraving gave a more aesthetic and literary feel to the page. It was also a time when critics railed at the increasing use of visuals in printed products, believing that this increased use of art was pandering of the worst sort and to the most common members of society. …

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