Assignment: Boom Times in Utah My editor called me Tuesday and asked, “Are you sitting down?”
Not knowing where this was going, I lied and kept standing.
“Believe it or not, I want to assign you to do one of your montage-composite things,” he said. “And it’s looking like it will run on A-1.”
Now this was a surprise. I’ve been doing a lot of multi-image pieces since 2002. I’ve put together hundreds of composites, panoramas, and tiled pieces like the one above. But as far as seeing them published, the odds are mostly stacked against them.
The photojournalism world is fixed on powerful single images and old school Life Magazine-type photo essays. Do something other than that and a lot of photographers/editors get uncomfortable. They like things the way they used to be, in that powerful, traditional style that has been around for decades. I like that, too. But sometimes I need to mix it up.
Every time we run one of these types of photographic compositions, someone from the other paper in town always comments on it. Without fail, every time. They tell me how they would never be able to publish anything like it in their paper. Just too radical for them.
After we published a few of these back in 2003, I realized that I had gotten way ahead of the photojournalism community. Every major photojournalism contest had rules that prohibited the techniques I was using (and still do). There was no way I could win awards with these images, aside from the in stepchild Illustration category, a catch-all for digital imagery (mostly photoshopped, cartoony images). And photographers I showed them to either loved them or hated them. There was no middle ground. (To be fair, when I was a young purist, I would have hated them, too.)
All that said, I don’t think that readers get wigged out by things that are different. I think they’re right there with me, taking in the message that the images are communicating.
An image like this is a collection of details. None of the photos by itself is any good. It’s only together, through their collective message, that the content is relayed. The sheer amount of help wanted signs demonstrates the amount of jobs available (in this case mostly retail and fast food jobs). It’s not pure black and white old school photojournalism, but to me, for some stories, here and there, it works.