Tag Archives: Layouts

Picture post

17 Aug

I’m not sure I’d ever make a photo editor, but if you lay out news pages you have to know which pictures you like and which you don’t, and for some reason I was struck by this one.

It’s a picture of Laura Kenny of the Great Britain cycling team by Alex Whitehead of SWPix. And it’s so well framed, with the Olympic rings up on the banking above her, that it looks almost like a portrait or an old-fashioned photoshoot: “Ride slowly around the track, and don’t look at the camera.”

But there’s a strangely charged quality to it that you can’t put your finger on, until you read the caption and realise that it was taken, not during a photocall, but shortly after a huge crash in the women’s omnium that took down half the field, including Kenny, and left two riders and an official unable to continue. Then the picture reformulates in front of your eyes: suddenly you see the faraway look in Kenny’s eyes that you had noticed without noticing, and realise that the only reason you can see her eyes at all is because the visor on her helmet was broken off in the impact. It’s not a picture of an Olympian fulfilling a media obligation, but of one trying to pull herself together.

As reinterpretations go, it’s not as disorientating as the critic Walter Pater’s famous suggestion that the Mona Lisa might be underwater (“in that cirque of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea”). But the meaning of the image is sufficiently hidden that it doesn’t make a good news photo. It need a caption to explain it, whereas there are any number of agency pictures of riders flying through the air that would tell the story on their own. News pics need to be a kind of search engine optimisation for the eyes: clear explanatory visuals to go with a clear explanatory headline. If you want to publish photographs that reveal their truth slowly, you probably need to get your art critic involved, as the Guardian did for several years.

All this is quite rarefied photographic air, of course: often the material you’re dealing with is, shall we say, less charismatic. Last week’s business section in the Tribune carried a full double-page spread on the rise of air source heat pumps. We sent out a photographer who has immortalised Malala Yousafzai and Leonard Cohen in stunning monochrome, and he still came back with a picture of a smiling couple standing next to a beige box. As the production editor, who was laying out the spread, grumbled, “even Robert Capa would struggle to make this one interesting”.

A hundred years ago

4 Sep

What a front page this is:

© Vancouver Sun/Postmedia

There’s a New-York Times-style triple-stack headline at the top, complete with semicolons – except that, unlike the Times, the three headlines are about three separate stories, which you then have to hunt about on the page to find; it’s not so much a headline as a news briefing. As a bonus, one of the headlines is wrong: “Nikolai” (? Vladimir?) “Lenine” (? spelling?) was not “shuffled off stage” by a “woman assassin” in 1918, as students of history will know: the Sun was misled by a telegram from Russia and was unaware that he had survived.

Then there are the peculiar tense sequences in some of the headlines: “Petrograd reports Bolsheviki leader dies by assassin” (not “has died”); “French troops take Loury; captured thousand Huns” (not “capture”). Then there are the flying verbs in the standfirsts, appearing decorously after the subject has been introduced (“They have got a footing in important wooded region; still advance”). Then there’s the Daily Express-style braggadocio in the masthead: “A Great Newspaper Growing Greater”. Someone has written a list headline (“This is August bag”). Someone’s even used the word “famous” in the furniture, which wouldn’t have passed the Tribune’s revise desk without comment.

I don’t know what the count rules are for those staggered three-deck headlines, but someone seems to have broken them for the Lenin story: the first two decks are so full that it looks like the third has been set right by mistake. “…is summary of report” is a slightly anticlimactic way to end a headline that starts “Huns now admitting defeat”.

But it’s impossible not to love the rhetorical panache of the subheads (“ONWARD FROM BAPAUME”), the profusion of visual entry points, or the exhilarating jumble of the 12-story layout. 1918 was a tumultuous year, to be sure, but in the 2 September edition of the Daily Sun, published 100 years ago this week, there’s not a headline you wouldn’t want to write or a story you wouldn’t want to read.