Why newspaper photo cliches make for great Tumblrs
"I feel sorry for local news photographers," begins the About text on a blog dedicated to newspaper photos.
That's understandable, given the heavy workload of the photographers lucky enough to have survived rounds of layoffs.
The site says newspaper photographers are "hugely skilled and poorly paid." Again, no argument there.
But then there's this: "[they're] sent out to photograph miserable people pointing at dog turds. Here, we celebrate their work."
So begins the U.K.-based Angry people in local newspapers blog, one of a handful of websites that collect cliched shots from overworked photographers lacking job security.
Similar sites in the genre include a U.K.-based Tumblr dedicated to Daily Mail photos of people "looking sad while holding, or standing close to, the thing that has made them feel sad." And, in the U.S., there's the more recent Tumblr from American journalist Jeremy Barr, "Local People With Their Arms Crossed."
Barr's site sports the tagline: "The pose that says, 'Hey, look at me. I'm featured on the front of my local newspaper.'" He relies on the Newseum's daily display of front pages to source his examples, like this powerful crosser:
Sites like Barr's offer an amusing look at the formulaic work that makes its way into publications large and small. But they also speak to the challenges of being a newspaper photographer today, according to Kenny Irby, a senior faculty member for visual journalism and director of community relations at Poynter.
"There are so many 'people standing in front of things with their arms folded' photographs on the Web largely because the people being assigned to document those images have no time to get to know the individual in their stories, and are ill-equipped to explore the visual variety of the environment," Irby said.
That lack of time to develop a rapport with a source and indulge in some creativity results in photograph-by-numbers work.
Witness, for example, this from the "Angry people's" site's ever-growing collection of angry people pointing at things that made them angry enough to attract press coverage:
Over at Hear Me Wail, the sad people in the Daily Mail Tumblr, you'll encounter characters such as this hirsute barman pulling a tap of pent-up emotion:
Or this somber woman presenting a Whopper:
But their object-oriented emotion gets kicked up a notch over at "Angry people in local newspapers." The best of its offerings include a supremely peeved mother and her damaged car:
Asked about his motivation for launching a photo-cliche site, Barr previously offered this comment to Poynter's Andrew Beaujon:
I love simple Tumblrs, and I think local newspapers are a national treasure in more ways than people realize. I was looking through front pages with another idea in mind and noticed this pose in a few papers around the country. It’s such a silly pose, and it connotes so much. So, I thought it might be fun to see if I could compile these poses. Fortunately there’s been a steady stream of them since I started this at the beginning of the month. I thought it was funny, and I hoped people would agree.
(Beaujon is also an aficionado of the arms-crossed pose, having exposed its use at the Washington Examiner back in 2011.)
Irby isn't surprised at how easy it is for Barr and others to find material for their sites.
“We are seeing so much unoriginal photographic coverage because we have so many beginners now making images and getting those images posted without an editor's vetting eye," he said. “Too few of the beginners discern the value of active, authentic, arresting photographic coverage, which is the result of a time-investment relationship that provides access.”
The result is a very of-the-moment media cycle: a lack of time and resources leads to cliched photojournalism, which begets Tumblrs collecting and celebrating said cliched shots.
That makes this photo a glorious cliche-bomb of the genre -- it features angry/sad people, the object of their anger/sadness and a double arm-crossing all in one:
Correction: This post originally and incorrectly described the Angry people in local newspapers blog as a Tumblr. It's hosted on Blogger.