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About to Die: How News Images Move the Publicby Barbie Zelizer
Synopses & Reviews
Images of people about to die surface repeatedly in the news, particularly around the difficult and unsettled events of war, political revolution, terrorism, natural disaster, and other crises. Their appearance raises questions: What equips an image to deliver the news; how much does the public need to know to make sense of what they see; and what do these images contribute to historical memory? About To Die addresses these questions by using images of imminent death as a litmus test for considering news imagery and visual meaning more broadly. The depictions, freezing action at the elemental moment when a person's contribution to history is registered, elicit contemplation and emotion. Used in ways that counter traditional understandings of both journalistic practice and the public's response to news, such images drive the public encounter with important events through impulses of implication, conditionality, hypothesis and contingency, rather than through evidentiary force. These images call on us to rethink both journalism and its public response, and in so doing they suggest both an alternative voice in the news--a subjunctive voice of the visual that pushes the 'as if' of news over its 'as is' dimensions--and an alternative mode of public engagement with journalism--an engagement fueled not by reason and understanding but by imagination and emotion.
Tracking events as wide-ranging as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Holocaust, Vietnam War, famine, Intifada, 2004 tsunami, and 9/11 and the 'war on terror,' this book suggests that a different kind of news relay, producing a different kind of public response, has settled into our information environment. It is in a development that has profound and under-explored implications for society's collective memory, the full breadth of which are tackled here.
Due to its ability to freeze a moment in time, the photo is a uniquely powerful device for ordering and understanding the world. But when an image depicts complex, ambiguous, or controversial events--terrorist attacks, wars, political assassinations--its ability to influence perception can prove deeply unsettling. Are we really seeing the world "as it is" or is the image a fabrication or projection? How do a photo's content and form shape a viewer's impressions? What do such images contribute to historical memory? About to Die focuses on one emotionally charged category of news photograph--depictions of individuals who are facing imminent death--as a prism for addressing such vital questions. Tracking events as wide-ranging as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, and 9/11, Barbie Zelizer demonstrates that modes of journalistic depiction and the power of the image are immense cultural forces that are still far from understood. Through a survey of a century of photojournalism, including close analysis of over sixty photos, About to Die provides a framework and vocabulary for understanding the news imagery that so profoundly shapes our view of the world.
About the Author
Barbie Zelizer is Raymond Williams Chair of Communication and the Director of the Scholars Program in Culture and Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the editor of several collections and the author of Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera's Eye and Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of Collective Memory.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Journalism, Memory and The Voice of the Visual
Chapter Two: Why Images of Impending Death Makes Sense in the News
Chapter Three: Presumed Death
Chapter Four: Possible Death
Chapter Five: Certain Death
Chapter Six: Journalism's Mix of Presumption, Possibility and Certainty
Chapter Seven: When the "As If" Erases Accountability
Chapter Eight: How News Images Move the Public
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