Photos We Couldn’t Use This Christmas
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Photography is a medium that can add immeasurable depth to the character and content of an online essay or show page or blog commentary. But, so often, choosing complementary images is treated as an afterthought, a sort of window display that fails to give you a hint of what’s inside or add to the story that’s being told in text or audio. I take this aspect seriously, especially when it comes to guest contributions to this blog.
In a simple call-out on Facebook and Twitter, we asked our readers to write about Advent or Hanukkah. We received dozens of clever, moving essays (even some on winter solstice!) and poetry — so many so that I worked through my first week of vacation editing and posting them. There were too many not to publish, and putting them off until I returned would mean that the built-in deadlines of the holidays would void them completely. Oh, what a joy though!
And what a challenge to find photos worthy of their partners. I hope I did our guest contributors right. Along the way, I found many others that weren’t quite right for pairing with our submissions. I’m sharing three photos with you that I don’t want to let go unnoticed.
I couldn’t find a spot for the photo above, but Christy Quirk’s street shot from her travels in Azerbaijan is absolutely wonderful. The scene is a bit depressing, and the Santa is a skinnier version of Dan Akroyd in Trading Places. (I’m just waiting for him to pull out a piece of salmon…) The photographer’s caption says it all:
“Christmas in a Muslim, post-Soviet country is a bit schizophrenic. Christmas isn’t celebrated as it is the West, but many of the icons are visible. Azeris like a secular New Year’s, but they also sometimes celebrate the Russian Christmas on January 6th. Nevertheless, this Santa looks a little worse for the wear.”
photo: Jon Ardern/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
And a Lancastrian photographer took this intriguing shot of a roadside vendor selling Santa masks and hats that read “Merry Christmas” — in Goa, India.
As interesting as these two Santa photos may be, it is the following family photo that I regret not using most:
photo: Micah Taylor/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Any family who has sat for a photo knows that the outtakes are often most memorable, and amusing. This one is scintillating and rich with texture, something the viewer can layer with meaning depending on the context. The photographer adds some flavor with his own caption: “For many obvious reasons, this did not make the cut for the family Christmas card, but it made the cut into my heart.”
Mine too, Micah. Mine too.
Sifting Through Screens
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
The image above is a photo of artist Nam June Paik’s video installation “TV Buddha.” It’s always been a favorite of mine for its clever take on the practice of meditation — a Buddha statue “contemplating” a live video image of itself. This picture is one of the photos that we considered for our recent program, “TV and Parables of Our Time,” but it didn’t end up making the final cut.
Choosing images for our programs is one of my favorite parts of this job, but it’s not always easy. The best image usually contains some mix of aesthetic appeal, editorial relevance, and that slippery, hard to pin-down thing we call “sensibility.”
“TV and Parables of Our Time” was no exception. I initially proposed to Trent (SOF’s online editor) using images from the TV shows Krista and Diane Winston discussed (much like our Web site for “A Return to the Mystery”). After talking it over a bit, we decided this conversation deserved a different approach — so it was off to Flickr, Getty, or any other place I might be able to find the right image.
I struggled to figure out where to start searching for an image with this program. The most obvious starting point was to start with an image search for “television,” but that seemed a little too easy. I came back to Trent with a set of images (included above), pushing the one you see on top with the young girl facing sideways. Unable to find something directly related to the program (other than the presence of a television), I had mostly gone for images I found visually interesting. Trent’s advice: keep looking.
I find that there’s no sure-fire way to accomplish this task, but it often helps to have more than one set of eyes looking to get it right. It’s real easy to get attached to one element of the program — in this case, the image of a television — and lose track of the larger message. On my second round of searching, I encountered photos of “TV Buddha” and got excited to have found something I already loved — hoping I might be able to make it work for the show. Talking it over with Trent — someone a little less infatuated with the image’s content — helped me realized that, while it may have been a cool image, it wasn’t the right fit for the program.
(photo: Andrea Volpini/Flickr)
I finally came back with one last set of images (above), which included the photo we ended up using, on top. Not only did I like the image, I also appreciated the quote that the photographer included on the photo’s Flickr page. From the Egyptian screenwriter Mohammed Amer, on the subject of Egyptian musalsalat (TV series): “One of the most important things soap operas have done is encourage the public to condemn terrorism.”
I liked that it kept with one of the themes of the program — the power of televised storytelling to help us cope with contemporary issues — but came from a different cultural perspective: Egyptian television rather than the American-made shows discussed in the program. My one concern was that the image seemed a little grainy, but Trent’s input was that the image quality didn’t make it less compelling.
Oh yeah, and I did manage to sneak Nam June Paik into the Web site. Another image I’d found on the last round of searching included Paik’s large installation “Megatron/Matrix,” which we ended up using for the site’s secondary pages.
(photo: Garrett Miller/Flickr)