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Photojournalism and Representation

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Assignment Two: 'Photojournalism and Representation'

Thomas Hoepker, Magnum Photos, 2001.

Stuart Hall (1978) stated that 'the media define for the majority of the population what significant events are taking place, but, also, they offer powerful interpretations of how to understand these events.' This quote is relevant to this photograph as it both reflects and challenges Hall's claim in regards to the power of media representation, and can be applied to this example of photojournalism. This photograph was taken on the eleventh of September 2001 by Magnum Photos' photojournalist Thomas Hoepker. It was published in the English newspaper 'The Guardian' in 2011 to mark the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 bombing on the Twin Towers in New York, America. It is now regarded as "one of the most controversial images of 9/11" (Jones, 2011).

This example of photojournalism uses photographic codes and techniques in the image. It is photographed using a low angle long shot to show the people perhaps sitting leisurely in the sun. In comparison to the burning Twin Towers, this small group of people may be seen as inferior to the dominant image of the towers in the background, and perhaps as though they are unaware of the catastrophe at hand. However, if this media image had been photographed from a different angle, for example a high angle shot from the women wearing an orange shirt's perspective, the level of concern from the group may have been more evident to viewers, and not so blazé towards the situation in the distance.

The aforementioned quotation by Hall (1978) can be interpreted as that the media has high influential power over what news in the world is actually newsworthy, and how their viewers might interpret events, images and footage portrayed by media organisations. In turn, perhaps, the media can also influence the way that people respond to such events, images and footage. This relates to the concept of representation, which is a common practice in the media. O'Shaugnessy & Stadler (2012) define the concept of representation with three meanings: 'to look like or to resemble; to stand in for something or someone; and to present a second time -- to re-present'. The media uses representation in order to define and present important news to their viewers and the world.

These concepts are reflected in Hoepker's image. Media organisations worldwide portrayed the 9/11 bombing event as a catastrophe, the dawn of a new era, and potentially one of the hardest events that modern American citizens would ever have to overcome in their lifetimes. Because this information and media figure's thoughts, opinions and interpretations of this event were so widespread through mass media in 2001, the viewers of the media were highly influenced by other people's thoughts, opinions and interpretations, and were possibly impartial to interpret it for themselves, and perhaps just saw this image as 'just another 9/11 impact photograph'.

However, Hoepker's media representation also challenges Hall's aforementioned statement regarding the power of the media and representation. This can be seen through the implied narrative. The man sitting to the far right of the media image, Walter Sipser, stated in an interview about the photograph with Slate Magazine that: ' A snapshot can make mourners attending a funeral look like they're having a party'. He also stated in the interview, 'A more honest conclusion might start by acknowledging just how easily a photograph can be manipulated, especially in the advancement of one's own biases or in the service of one's own career'. These quotes demonstrate to us as viewers just how contradictory photojournalism and the news media portray such catastrophes and events such as 9/11 which is being portrayed here by Hoepker.

This event may have been deemed as significant by Hoepker, and crucially important for him to photograph and... Show More

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