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Never trust an artard

I’ve designed publications for a living, too — magazines and brochures and stuff. I can tell you, when pictures are chosen, they are always the ones that best support the narrative.

I mean, duh, right? You run a story about Obama’s falling poll numbers, you’re going to run it under a picture of Obama looking all cross and grumpy. If you ran it with with a picture of him all sunny and happy, it would look stupid. Even if he was actually in a terrific mood when today’s pictures were taken, you have to comb through and find one where he’s blinking or looking down or something.

I know this isn’t a profound revelation. But it’s worth bearing in mind, because we react to images way down at the lizard level. Even when they aren’t actually meaningful.

Drudge ran the headline, “Thousands Riot in Afghanistan” or something with the picture above left. I count three guys, two of them are grinning like raccoons. The dude with the knife and the stupid red beard (no really — it was an awful henna job with gray roots) grabs our eyeballs and won’t let go, so we don’t see the smilies on either side.

When you look for it, it’s amazing how many people in these angry mobs look happy to be there. Most wire services ran the picture at right. Uncropped, I count ten men, about half of whom are smiling (a bit hard to see at this size, sorry). Yeah, you know why — that big white hand against that big black cloud. Pure sex to a photo editor.

I’m not suggesting angry third-world mobs are happy funtime carnivals. Or that thousands didn’t pour out in protest this weekend. Apparently they did, with some fatal results. But nobody seems to have gotten any good pictures of it, so they had to run with small bands of yoohoos (mugging directly into the camera!) and crop it to look like legions.

News photos like this aren’t wrong, but they’re often the most contrived, least informative part of the information we get.

September 13, 2010 — 9:44 pm
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