Magazine article Communication World

When Less Is More: Obscuring Detail to Make Your Point. (Photocritique)

Magazine article Communication World

When Less Is More: Obscuring Detail to Make Your Point. (Photocritique)

Article excerpt

Group portraits are published frequently in organizational publications. Most are made for purposes of recognition and identification, not as communication. They are little more than pictures of people having their pictures taken.

We've all seen those dreary pictures of six people sitting at a table, smiling at the camera. A caption might tell us that they are members of a certain committee or project team. But there's nothing in their placement, response or setting that tells us anything about them as a group. Such pictures are cliches. They have no credibility as an editorial message. They fail to communicate.

Credibility and meaning are essential to any group portrait. With just a bit of thought, time and effort, photographers can make a group portrait communicate the nature of the group by pointing out those things that bond it as a group, giving it identity, character and purpose. Settings, placement, costume, body language and expressions can all contribute to making a group portrait communicate.

Our first two examples appeared on the front and back covers of The Business of Caring, published by CIGNA Corp. in Philadelphia for its customer service and marketing employees. Both group portraits feature families seated on the steps of their homes. Yet they tell different stories. On the front cover, we meet a family from Bangladesh. Despite modest means, this family was able to buy a home with CIGNA'S help. Photojournalist Paul Fusco uses a wide-angle lens and low vantage point to stress this growing family's needs: the long legs of the two girls dominate the image--they need space, the kind of space that their new home can offer them. Their father, who fled Bangladesh to avoid death at the hands of political foes, takes a back seat in this portrait. He and his wife may be smaller in scale than their children, but the responsibility before them is large.

While Fusco's front cover image is editorial in nature, the back cover portrait dominates an institutional advertisement. Yet it also effectively represents the obligations any family must face. Shot in sepia tones, rather than full color, it is less realistic, but more symbolic. The sepia tonality gives the portrait a sense of timelessness. Body language is relaxed yet intimate--a circular flow of hands and arms bonds these people as a family entity. …

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