The Burden of Visual Truth: The Role of Photojournalism in Mediating Reality

The Burden of Visual Truth: The Role of Photojournalism in Mediating Reality

The Burden of Visual Truth: The Role of Photojournalism in Mediating Reality

The Burden of Visual Truth: The Role of Photojournalism in Mediating Reality

Synopsis

As the visual component of contemporary media has overtaken the verbal, visual reportage has established a unique and extremely significant role in 21st-century culture. Julianne Newton has prepared this comprehensive analysis of the development of the role of visual reportage as a critical player in the evolution of our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world. The Burden of Visual Truth offers a first assessment of the role of visual journalism within the context of the complex, cross-disciplinary pool of literature and ideas required for synthesis. Newton approaches the subject matter from several perspectives, examining the theoretical and ideological bases for visual truth, particularly as conveyed by the news media, and applying relevant research on photojournalism and reality imagery to contemporary newspaper, broadcast, and internet professional practice. She extends visual communication theory by proposing an ecology of the visual for 21st century life and developing a typology of human visual behavior. Scholars in visual studies, media studies, journalism, nonverbal communication, cultural history, and psychology will find this analysis invaluable as a comprehensive base for studying reality imaging and human visual behavior. The volume also is appropriate for journalism and media studies coursework at the undergraduate and graduate levels. With its conclusions about the future of visual reportage, The Burden of Visual Truth also will be compelling reading for journalism and mass communication professionals concerned with improving media credibility and maintaining a significant course for journalism in the 21st century. For all who seek to understand the role of visual media in the formation of their views of the world and of their own identities, this volume is a must-read.

Excerpt

Photojournalism, at the beginning of the 21st century, finds itself at the proverbial crossroads: Will image-making technologies and public cynicism lead to its demise, or will journalists rise to the challenge by practicing a new, more credible form of visual journalism? From the time of its invention in the early 19th century, photography enjoyed the unparalleled credibility assumed through a mechanistic perception of a neutral, “mirror of nature” camera. By the beginning of the 20th century, photographs were being used as irrefutable evidence of the veracity of their manifest content, a position supported by empiricism, modernism, and the scientific method. Additionally, journalism's deliberate move toward objectivity in mid-20th-century media culture underscored the value of photographic evidence. By the 1960s, photojournalism was flourishing—the 35-mm camera had made the physical challenges of picture taking easier, printing advances had made publication of photographs a simpler matter, and news publications had begun to realize the informational and economic value of photographs.

Paradoxically, however, the physical sciences had already challenged the idea of an objective world “out there. ” The development of quantum physics shifted all notions of reality, zooming in on the subjective nature of our comprehension of all things. Literary, art, and communication scholars echoed physicists' concerns through their critiques of the scientific method and modernism itself. The photograph as an evidentiary document began to lose face in light of increased understanding of the subjective nature of visual representation. Constructionism, semiotics, and then deconstructionism offered new ways to interpret visual culture and human visual behavior.

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