6.10.2007

Some more controversy

At the Monroe Evening News, we have a photo column that is published every now and then. It is called Still Life and is basically a photo that doesn't fit it with typical news. We put a quote under it and run it as a column. This one caused some trouble recently..."Conformity is the jailer of freedom and enemy of growth." -John F. Kennedy

It led to a plethora of angry moms and administrative people at the school calling to complain.

But luckly, the paper stood behind my photo and quote and the editor published this editorial in response to the controversy:

Quote with photo stirs emotions

A flurry of phone calls and e-mails this week questioned our use of a Still Life photo on the May 31 Community page. Although we've run the Still Life feature for 10 years and even published a collection of them in book form, only rarely has one caused this kind of stir.

Still Life is the feature we run occasionally that consists of a nontraditional newspaper photo accompanied by a quotation. They are not the images typically found in a newspaper - things like fires, parades or touchdowns.

Rather, Still Life grew out of the other kinds of photos brought back by photographers on assignment. These photos were more art than news. They put focus on something unusual: different lighting, angles, juxapositions or mood, that caught the photographer's eye as interesting. When we started attaching quotations they became popular with readers.

Last week's Still Life generated more heat than usual. The photo showed a line of seated high school students, all with hands clasped the same way, all wearing tennis shoes, jeans and dark T-shirts except for one student in the middle wearing a light-color shirt. The quotation from John F. Kennedy said: "Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth."

The detail that caused the ruckus is that across the front of the T-shirts it says SMCC or Falcons football.

We heard from some staff members, students and parents associated with St. Mary's Catholic Central High School that this was an offensive editorial comment about the school. I don't want to speak for them and I hope one or more write letters to the editor about their reaction to the photo, but I believe that one of their concerns is they felt that because the school has set high standards, including a required dress code, that we were purposely ridiculing that.

I know the background of how we operate. I know that we would not use a Still Life picture to make an editorial comment and that we would not criticize SMCC or any other local school in this way. But readers without that understanding could have seen it as a slam pointed at the school or the students.

The photographer's intention was not to take a personal stand, but to make an interesting image and to attach a thought-provoking quote to it. The best Still Life photo packages stir personal reflection and public discussion. Each person should get out of the photo and quote what is most at odds within himself or what he might see in a new way.

When SMCC and other schools decided to require a limited dress code, their intention was not to make students "conform" for the sake of conformity. They had other reasons: school pride, less focus on appearance over substance, less competition and envy.

When we decided to use this Still Life photo and quotation it wasn't our intention to imply that SMCC conforms to unreasonable principles. We had other reasons: to look and to see and to think differently about the images all around us.

And if we disagree on what we think the message is, well, that's the point.

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

She says, "The best Still Life photo packages stir personal reflection and public discussion", that's what I said too. I really am a pro, I have to say.