Kenya 2013. Tyler Hicks. New York Times.

Epic Quest: Tier I

Thirsty Images

News images are “thirsty” images. Not only do they often suck us in, powerfully, but they draw to themselves other images, other cultural associations. They usually don’t have a single meaning, and the more you look, the more there seem to be layers of meaning. They mean different things to different people. They remind you of other images.

Image is Everything. Obey your Thirst.


Task + Goals

This assignment will focus on the ethics, aesthetics, and cultural contexts of news photography. It will require you to select at least one example of photojournalism and analyze it in depth. The assignment will also require you to engage with at least one of the articles we are discussing for this unit, and use your exploration of that author’s ideas to develop a critical framework that you will use to help analyze the structure and significance of the image you have chosen.

WARNING: This assignment will involve looking at some very disturbing and upsetting images. They will prompt a visceral reaction from all of us. Our task will be to account for those reactions (or, alternatively, a lack of reaction), to honor those feelings, but also to move beyond them. You will also have to deal with what is probably the most challenging aspect of these images: many of the “best” (most effective? most moving?) news images often juxtapose scenes of total horror with a formal beauty.

This assignment is designed to ensure that you:

  • Understand the concepts of rhetoric, rhetorical situation, and the role played by audience, writer/speaker, and conversational context in an act of communication;
  • Understand the implications of genre both for critical analysis and effective writing.
  • that you are able to undertake sophisticated analysis of both print and image sources;
  • that you can structure an engaging, articulate argument.

Choosing an image

What makes a “good” image for this assignment? This could be an image that provokes any or all of the following responses:

  • it provokes a strong emotional response from you;
  • alternatively, it doesn’t provoke any strong response from you, even if it seems as if it should;
  • an image that intrigues or disturbs you, but for reasons that you can’t initially explain;
  • an image with a strong aesthetic component (i.e. the composition, lighting, colors, etc.)
  • an image where the aesthetic elements and what is being depicted seem a at odds with one another
  • an image that makes you angry
  • an image that surprises you

In practice I would avoid any photo where you look at it and your first thought is “Ah, yes, I totally get it.” Good critical analysis arises from our need to explore aspects of our experience that don’t make sense at first glance. I would also suggest having a shortlist of images to work with, in case analyzing one doesn’t initially prove to be as fruitful as you anticipated.

You will be selecting from among those images that have received a national or international photojournalism award. If an image has received such an honor it is a reasonably safe assumption that (photo) journalists consider it to be a fine example of the best aspects of their professional craft. This makes these images particularly appropriate for an analysis that tries to determine how they represent specific assumptions and practices of the news media.

The image that you select does not have to be one that explicitly concerns armed conflict. The focus of this assignment is developing your writing by asking you to analyze the role of images in the news media and in our perceptions. For that purpose most news images will do. You should instead consider how rich you find the image: do you think it will provide you with the opportunity to develop ideas that will be interesting both to you and to someone else?

Note: Some of these competitions have multiple categories; you are concerned only with those dealing with news photography.

Suggested reliable sources:

You can use any of the images that you find on these websites, except for the ones we use in class. Even if the website doesn’t have the images, it does tell you who won for a particular year, so you may be able to Google those images from elsewhere on the Web.


Due Dates + Points

Working Draft: Wednesday, September 23

Final Draft: Wednesday, October 7

Length: Four pages, double-spaced, minimum.

XP Rewards

  • Gold: 8,000 points
  • Silver: 6,000 points
  • Bronze: 4,000 points

You may highlight the text and save personal notes for yourself as you read through this assignment which can be very helpful. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to write a response below.

*This assignment was written by Professor Mark Mullen of The George Washington University*