Defining the icon (Photojournalism and foreign policy)


Every photographer dreams of capturing that one great shot, that magical moment of passage from life into death.

——David Hume Kennerly

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Combat Photographer

Pictures strike an emotional response in viewers that overrides reason (Page: 4)

Frames also govern which events are allowed to constitute news from foreign lands. The sociologist Hervert Gans has described the seven most prevalent foreign news stories in print and television. They include:

  1. American actions abroad, ranging from wars to visits by the president.
  2. Foreign activity that affects America, such as a war that threatens oil supplies.
  3. Relations with totalitarian countries, especially when these are seen as dysfunctional and thus are contrary to American ideals.
  4. Foreign elections and transfers of power (including coverage of European royalty).
  5. Major wars.
  6. Disasters (natural or otherwise) that cause great loss of life.
  7. The antics and oppressions of foreign dictators, especially if they have unfriendly relations with the United States. (Page: 8

These subjects have two elements in common. They are potential source of good visuals. They also generally relate to American issues and concerns. Defining those concerns, are, of course, an enterprise of the government as well as the press. (Page: 8-9)

Defining the icon

  1. Celebrity. The first major criterion for justifiably calling a picture an icon is its fame. A famous image is one which people can identify when prompted, or are vaguely familiar with even if little is known about the context of events. (Page: 11)
  2. Prominence. Another distinction of an icon is how prominent is its appearance in print or transmission. Is it the front page or cover shot, or does it lead a newscast? (Page: 12)
  3. Frequency. Related to the prominence of a picture is its quantitative representation in media sources. (Page: 13)
  4. Profit. (page: 13)
  5. Instantaneousness. Icons typically achieve fame immediately, then enter the ranks of important images as time passes. (page: 14)
  6. Transposability. “Quoting” or transposing an icon across media and in many media sources helps to facilitate retention. (page: 14)
  7. Fame of subjects.
  8. Importance of events.
  9. Metonymy. Pictures of single events are used to exemplify general conditions. … This “summing up” quality is a special value of the news picture. (page: 17)

10. Primordiality and/or cultural resonance. When we make allusions to biblical or classical historical scenes related to an icon, we suggest that it taps into some deeper human sensibility. This is not only because such scenes are part of our common cultural history (at least in the mind of the first person observer), but also because certain images may call to mind primordial themes. (page: 17)

11. Striking composition. … Simplicity and iconicity seem to go hand-in-hand…. The aesthetic appeal of an image must not lead us to imagine, without evidence, that the picture must be commensurably changing hearts and minds. We must keep in mind that many striking compositions of life and death moments fleetingly appear in the news stream every day and then are subsequently buried forever in archives. (page: 18-20)



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