"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

24 September, 2008

Shouting Men in Shirtsleeves - How best to Illustrate Market News?

This image copyright AP

I have it on excellent authority that senior picture editors all over Fleet Street were whooping into their tall skinny lattes last Monday when the news broke that Lehman Brothers had finally collapsed, with thousands of job losses expected around the globe. Finally, they thought, some decent pictures we can use.

“Shots of sweaty men in shirtsleeves, shouting loudly down 'phones don’t tell the readers anything, but the same guys? Walking out of those shiny front doors, lugging the contents of their desks in boxes – nobody needs a caption to work out what that all means”.

And sure enough, last week’s papers carried all the obligatory shots of redundant bankers, trooping out of their erstwhile offices, brows furrowed, chattels aloft. It is a wonder no snappers were injured as they pushed their long lenses forward in an attempt to document this sad, shuffling exodus. Even I felt some momentary sympathy, hence my decision not to reproduce any more schadenfreude shots here.

Frankfurt Stock Exchange: Bull & Bear - copyright Thomas Richter

Adequately illustrating financial news stories has historically been an infrequent, but perennial, problem. Until relatively recently, money and market matters had the good grace to restrict themselves to the inside pages, with only the occasional High Street sales hiccup or Christmas Club collapse muscling their way into the mainstream headlines. To date, this has allowed picture desks to get away with myriad indulgences, not least the over-zealous use of images of attractive women which have little, if any, relation to the story at hand. “M&S reporting tomorrow? Run a snap of one of those models from the ads. No, not Twiggy. Use the sultry one with the curly hair. Her, or that Myleene Klass.”

Yet even before the market turmoil of recent weeks, financial news has been hitting the front page far more regularly of late – fueled by a combination of credit crunch anxieties, continuing globalization and the demands of increasingly sophisticated investors. The latter are no longer confined to canny middle class pensioners and part time stock market players; they now include the man on the Clapham omnibus who wants to know, among other things, exactly how much the price of his Victorian terraced cottage has been affected by remote and distant events, events which are still beyond his control but are now no longer beyond his ken.

Cartoon: copyright blueherald.com

If, as seems likely, the markets are to remain centre stage, perhaps it is time for imaginative picture desks to think beyond the box when it comes to illuminating financial news? It is hard to think of a single photograph that has managed to explain or convey as much as the cartoons which have flowed thick and fast from the pens of some of our best commentators, most notably Matt in the Telegraph, Nick Newman of the Sunday Times and Robert Thompson in the Spectator & elsewhere. Yet, I suppose, why bother to commission an incisive cartoon or any other perceptive illustration - when you can pretty much always find a decent shot of that Myleene Klass?