Many talented newspaper photographers in the country are producing good pictures for their readers. And, at the same time, many of the same photographers are producing a lot of awful pictures. It's a problem in American newspapers:
Photographer goes on assignment, sees a great picture situation, shoots a great picture. That's good. Photographer goes on assignment, sees what appears to be a dull picture situation, shoots a dull picture. Same' ol', same' ol' and boring. That's bad.
There also are talented photographers in America who go on assignment, see dull picture situations and shoot great pictures. In the photojournalism profession, we call that making something out of nothing.
Most newspaper photographers come up with these pictures on occasion. But the photographers who are performing at the highest level - those who are recognized as the best in the profession - come back, assignment after assignment, with compelling, special story telling pictures from apparently barren visual situations - virtually every time.
These photographers, are they just plain better, more gifted than the other talented photographers? What separates these great photographers from the rest of the pack? Three things. Attitude, the way they see the world through their camera lenses and a willingness to take risks.
The great photographers all have an attitude that will never let an assignment, no matter how visually dull it might seem to be, beat them. They never give in, or give up, on recording an image they can be proud of. These photographers are incredibly tough mentally.
And when it comes to the way they "see," they are forever stalking the decisive moment, as first described by the legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Plus, they are not willing to simply record the obvious. They take risks that often give their images a funky edge. For example, arms or legs jutting into the picture, or not showing a principal character's entire upper body (which means the head is not showing).
When it comes to capturing the moment, it is sometimes a waiting game. Wait and wait and wait some more for that perfect moment of composition and action (overtly or subtle), when all the elements in view - especially body language - come into perfect, artistic alignment.
And then there are other times the moment is surprisingly, suddenly there, and the finger instinctively clicks the shutter. In both situations, the image is lifted from the mundane to the sublime.
Many of the photographs being presented in The Chrysler Museum of Art's A Century of Great Photography from The Virginian-Pilot fall into this special category, one that helps tell the story in a compelling, artistic way.
Picture in the exhibit such as: A brother teasing his twin sister with a tiny fish he has just caught. A tearfully happy child hugging her homecoming military father as American flags flutter nearby. A man whisking a plastic cover over a prison electric chair being retired from service.
These pictures are energized by "the moment."
And there are pictures in the show that tell no particular story, but simply give the viewer an image of pure artistry. Images such as: A pelican taking wing - leaving symmetrical rings in the water - as another waterfowl makes a surprise side entry into the scene. A picture of a boat's canvas sail appearing lonely and teepee-like beyond four uniform mounds of coal. Very funky.
What these Virginian-Pilot images in the Chrysler exhibit show is that newspaper photographs do not have to be "in your face," unimaginative, obvious images. They can, in fact, tell the story while at the same time engaging the viewer's artistic senses.