by Michael Shaw

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Photo: Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos Caption: Two old friends at the Catania train depot pass a TV cameraman. On the eve of the nationwide lockdown, the last train bearing passengers from northern Italy is three hours late.

We were told repeatedly we were ten days to two weeks behind Italy, but denial and disbelief have powerful effects.

Alex Majoli’s shadowy portraits were already nightmarish when they were published in Vanity Fair ten days ago. But now that we in the U.S. have “caught up,” their immediacy makes them that much more frightening.

Of the series, these two really haunt me. Considering the two old men walking past a cameraman (the news never dies), the virus is framed as the grim reaper.

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Photo: Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos Caption: In an E.R. in the northern city of Reggio Emilia, a paramedic sprays down hospital beds. Along with Lombardy, the Emilia-Romagna region has been among the most ravaged by the pandemic.

And then there’s the shot of the paramedic hosing down a hospital bed with disinfectant, the old contraption looking like its own kind of monster. Given COVID’s scale and speed, its blistering lethality, and the inscrutable mechanism of the disease, this mundane act is its own monstrosity. …


by Michael Shaw

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Photo: Mark Peterson for Bloomberg Business Week via Instagram. Caption: Border Security Expo, April 19, 2019.

If you had to choose one photo to illustrate the immigration crisis, this is literally the money shot. In fact, Mark Peterson’s photograph, taken at a recent border security trade show (a revealing exercise in itself), might serve as the defining image of Trump’s America.

It’s a great example because of the Trump mantra, born from the chants of those early primal rallies and the GOP convention, to lock people up. But what’s brilliant about the photo is how unabashed it is about the ultimate motive. …


by Christa Olson

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Photo: Mauricio Lima. Outside the small village of Chicua, in the western highlands, in an area affected by extreme-weather events, Ilda Gonzales looks after her daughter.

You’ve seen pictures like these before.

In early April, The New Yorker published a series of three by Jonathan Blitzer articles lushly illustrated with photographs by Mauricio Lima. Blitzer’s essays provide context for the recent surge in migration from Guatemala to Mexico and the United States. Lima’s photos provide the viewer with different entry points to the issues … and to understanding of the people depicted.

Each of Blitzer’s three pieces tells a different story: remittances, debt, and climate change. Together, they treat the forces that push and pull migrants — many of whom are rural and indigenous — to leave their homes and head north. The first of those articles, How Climate Change is Fueling the U.S. Border Crisis, introduces climate change as a significant push factor in today’s migration crisis. As Central America’s “dry corridor” expands, extreme weather events increase, and seasonal weather patterns become unpredictable, communities of subsistence farmers in the western highlands of Guatemala are no longer able to subsist with traditional crops. Some turn to selling firewood, which contributes to local deforestation and exacerbates the effects of climate change. …


by Philip Perdue

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Jon Schleuss/Los Angeles Times

How fitting that, two years into Trump’s presidency and upon the final, but necessarily incomplete release of the Mueller Report, one of the most significant impressions of the document was pictographic. Usually reporting about a report involves careful verbal summary and synopsis, but in this case much of the pertinent language has been redacted. But to Jon Schleuss and his scanner at the Los Angeles Times, we have a bird’s eye view on all the pages of the report put together-all 448 of them-to help us get a sense for just how much has been blotted out.

The image above went viral almost immediately likely because audiences were quick to assume in the black-and-white pattern that Trump-fronting Attorney General William Barr used his legal authorization to block key passages. …


by KC McGinnis

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Roseanne Barr, right, stops at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Jan. 27 during a two-week excursion to Israel. © Melina Mara/Washington Post.

ONE OF THE reasons people go on pilgrimages is to find solace in arriving at a concrete destination. That may be why Roseanne Barr, the exiled TV star who cut her own explosive comeback short last year with a disastrous, racist tweet, made a surprising appearance at the Western Wall during a recent two-week excursion to Israel. Award-winning photojournalist Melina Mara accompanied Roseanne on the trip, documenting for Washington Post how Hollywood star power negotiates a career fallout by heading to the Holy Land. …


This week in ‘Chatting The Pictures’

by Michael Shaw

“The News” photo this week was taken by Sergio Flores for The Washington Post. At a makeshift detention center in El Paso, a surge of asylum seekers has been overwhelming Border Patrol and the U.S. immigration infrastructure. In this frame, we see how a news photograph can present many messages at once. The government and Democrats would agree it shows a humanitarian crisis. But it’s one that the government has designed.

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Photo: Sergio Flores for The Washington Post. Migrants gather inside the fence of a makeshift detention center Wednesday in El Paso, where a surge has been overwhelming Border Patrol and the U.S. immigration infrastructure.

For “The Look,” we discuss an image by Cliff Owen for the Associated Press. This photograph of Special Council Mueller in front of the White House, after leaving church, was taken a day after his report was delivered to Attorney General William Barr. After a careful and meticulous investigation, that awkward look at the camera is the perfect compliment after the government engineered a four page summary of his 300 page report, and the White House declared itself vindicated. …


by Rian Dundon

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Photo: David Butow via Instagram. March 22, 2019. Caption: Shadows from a Secret Service dog are projected onto an exterior wall of the White House this evening, a few hours after Robert Mueller submitted his long-awaited report to the Attorney General. POTUS is in Florida.

With all the anxiety and anticipation over the Mueller Report, the release of a slight Justice Department summary exonerating Trump just led to a deeper foreboding. Bereft any lingering hope of the special prosecutor revealing something of immediate consequence for this administration, instead we were left with more of the same. Following the release, the anxious mood in Washington was captured by photographers, variously, in Mueller’s wistful expressions and the late winter landscape of the city itself. …


by Michael Shaw

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Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo. President Donald Trump announces that he is nominating William Barr, attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, as his attorney general, on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, in Washington.

With the death of the White House press briefing and the presidential press conference, these South Lawn encounters are really all that’s left of a regular exchange between Trump and the press.

The scene above, by Evan Vucci, could be called your standard fare — meaning, a picture that is indistinguishable from those conducted over the years with other Commanders in Chief before flying off on Marine One.

But, as we know, “standard,” “normal,” or “regular” are not terms that apply to Trump and his presidency, and these driveway encounters haven’t been either.

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Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Bloomberg via Getty Images. U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., on Monday, October 22, 2018. Trump said Congress will vote on a new tax cut for middle-class Americans after the midterm elections, even though Republican lawmakers say they have no such legislation in the works.

If anything, these episodes provide a consistent backdrop against which to observe the president’s oft-repeated moves. In this case, the push back, the keeping inquiring minds at bay, the enforcement of one version of the facts. …


by Michael Shaw

Welcome to the latest edition of Chatting the Pictures. In each 20-minute webcast, co-hosts Michael Shaw, publisher of Reading the Pictures, and writer and historian, Cara Finnegan, discuss three prominent photos in the news. The program is broken into three segments: “The News,” “The Look,” and “The Pick.” “The News” examine a hard news image for its content value. “The Look” focuses on a news photo for its artistry and style. And “The Pick” asks what made a high profile photo so unique to editors or the public.

“The News” photo this week was distributed by Mega. Based on the college entrance scandal that broke this week, we see actress Felicity Huffman leaving court after her arraignment. We look at the irony of the crossover news/paparazzi photo, wonder where Bill Macy (Huffman’s husband is), discuss that classic grimace on the officer’s face, and muse about how well-heeled parents get their kids into college through the back or side door. …


by Michael Shaw

Chatting the Pictures is a weekly, 20-minute webcast for which RTP publisher Michael Shaw is joined by writer and historian, Cara Finnegan to discuss three prominent photos in the news.

The program is broken into three segments: “The News” examines a hard news image for its content value. “The Look” focuses on a news photo for its artistry and style. And “The Pick” asks what made a high profile photo so unique to editors or the public.

The News

Taken by Saul Loeb for AFP, we see Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump during their failed summit in Hanoi. In the discussion, we discuss the “accuracy” of the photo, the surprising mirror effect, and Trump’s unusual display of listlessness. …

About

Reading The Pictures

Official feed of the visual politics + photojournalism site, ReadingThePictures.org. (Formerly BagNewsNotes.)

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