Shared Picture. Production of Editorial Portraits in a Consumer Magazine’s Work Process
My research focuses on editorial portraiture in the magazine context. As a hypothesis, I divide contemporary journalistic photography into three forms and medium-based categories: traditional documentary photography (mainly in newspapers and photographic art context), editorial format photography (in magazines) and digital multimodal photography (in independent web media or web supplements of traditional printed media). Whereas a documentary photograph intends to be a context-free entity giving a neutral representation of the subject, a magazine picture is a collectively planned product that is valued in terms of fitting into the magazine’s visual concept more than its relation to common reality. Digital multimodal photography features distinctive qualities such as multimodality (sound, graphic elements, moving image), interactivity and a fairly unlimited length of narrative. All these overlapping categories, in all media, use portrait photography, the subject being the person portrayed or any social or political issue in a personalised form. My research questions are: 1/ How and why the pictorial subject of an image (i.e. portrayed person with authentic or staged background) is cropped, framed or elaborated on in magazine production, and 2/ How the reader is constructed and discussed during this process of image making? I am conducting my ethnographic study in Finnish magazines using semi-structured interviews and newsroom observation. I follow the production process from the initial stage to final outcome, making visualised models of the work flow and interviewing also the persons being portrayed. The units of analysis are 1/ the practitioners’ discussions during and around the process and 2/ the photographs, their style and structure, and the constructive implied reader within. In magazine journalism, the relation to readers has always been explicitly important. Written down in the editorial policy or stylebook, there is often a fictitious person, the model reader, for whom the content is tailored. Readers have also recently been discussed concerning the epistemic and financial crisis of printed newspapers. The argument is that the audience’s trust in journalism is based on the default assumption of accuracy. In the magazine context, I argue that accuracy alone is insufficient to gain the audience’s trust, which may form as a result of a mutual understanding – shared between the reader and the magazine – of 1/ certain defined forms of photographic representation and interpretation of reality, and 2/ certain professional photographic quality and distinctive style of the images.