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Measuring Influence

Earlier this month, TIME magazine devised a list of “the 100 most influential photographs” from across all of history. http://100photos.time.com/

Such an enterprise makes perfect sense coming from the publishing company that hopes to rival the Nobel’s leading figures around the world with their own Man or Woman or Group or Machine of the Year. The main difference is that these Top 100 selections all won a kind of wide-spread popularity contest we now know with hushed awe as Crowd Sourcing. (Be sure to check out the questionable wisdom of that approach in my column from 6 September, as well as in the pitfalls of running an election that way.)

TIME’s director of photography Kira Pollack rushed around New York promoting the multi-platform landmark effort, which in a tour-de-force marketing blitz dominated the magazine, a book, a special website, several videos and talk shows. Check out one thoroughly watchable interview here from 23 November 2016 on the PBS Charlie Rose program: https://charlierose.com/videos/29504

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Some pictures were already very well-known, chosen for there sheer indisputable drama. For instance, think of how society has been influenced by Donna Ferrato’s closeup photos of domestic violence. New laws in America can be traced directly to the light she shed on the living verb, one that editors could talk about but had never before Donna imagined or dared to assign.

Other slots in the list were set aside only out of tradition and respect (such as Robert Capa’s D-Day) rather than for a concept that the picture actually proves. I’m especially thinking of that baby photo that just happened to be captured at the dawn of cell phone cameras.

The Story Behind TIME’s 100 Most Influential Photos

If they followed the formula of veteran TIME/LIFE taste-maker Dick Stolley, the review committee wanted very much to include one or two shots of Jackie Kennedy. Or maybe they were thinking of this Top 100 as a menu of sorts, with a balanced diet of whole grains of truth leavened with plenty of sugar.

After all, who wants to see a simple rerun of mayhem, the way that AP or the Pulitzer committee might celebrate their favorite photos? Better to save plenty of spaces for photos coming out of the archive at TIME or LIFE magazines.

After all, who could forget the photo of the grieving widow and her little saluting son? Oh… they did overlook that one? And they used Ron Gallela’s stalker photo of Jackie crossing the street, the breeze catching her hair. Oh… okay. I get it, that checks off the desire to gawk at the beautiful former first lady, but through the eyes of voyeurism and the birth of celebrity-obsessed, low-meaning paparazzi journalism, the kind that values fame for its own sake, and something which Time, Inc. helped to give birth to with an entire magazine devoted to that impulse.

But just in case TIME ever wants to update or revise their list, or make it an unforgettable 101, here is another humble nomination for the Mother of All Listicles in Visual Communication, which is printed above.

Several qualities in evidence both influenced the field of photography and political struggles in the wider world:

First of all, there is the courage and enterprise that this person needed to take it. At the age of 23, the young photographer became the youngest professional to ever be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

According to author Hal Buell, this photo blazed the trail as the first of the Pulitzer photos from Africa, leading to an awakening among editors and other young photographers such as Larry Price, Maggie Steber and Carol Guzy to carry on that challenge, bearing witness in their own work in that continent.

On a political level, this photo sped up the downfall of wicked government, the end of a racist white minority regime in Africa, directly helping to bring seven-year-long bloody guerrilla war to an end. The Rhodesian government had argued that such brutality never happened at their hands, but this photo and two more that accompanied the first-hand report, proved that they had been lying.

The photo then appeared in the school books of the new nation, in hope that both white and black citizens would recognize and never repeat the injustice that had continued for so long.

The photo was published in LIFE magazine, and a record-breaking two times within four weeks over at the rival Newsweek magazine.

But there are also a number of surprising, twisted ironies about this image:

It also became the one and only photo denounced and disqualified by the Overseas Press Club because they didn’t approve of the way it had been submitted. All but one of the judges responsible for this decision later apologized in national magazine interviews. https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/j-ross-baughman-rhodesia/

The same villagers shown in the photos who survived the fall of Rhodesia did not find peace. Robert Mugabe hired North Korean trainers for his new Zimbabwean army, and then sent some of the same cavalry back to murder and destroy those same black citizens, all because of his suspicions and rivalry with another black African leader in his own government. Mugabe became the longest serving head of state (and dictator) in Africa.

I only happen to know all of these things because I am that photographer.

The complete story of how I succeeded at it can be studied in ANGLE, my combination of a memoir and photo book. https://www.amazon.com/Angle-Fighting-Censorship-Threats-Pulitzer-ebook/dp/B00NKUI0CC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480425508&sr=1-1&keywords=J.+Ross+Baughman

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One thought on “Measuring Influence

  1. I looked forward to seeing the Most Influential Photographs piece in Time and came away sorely disappointed and disheartened. What an odd and puzzling collection it turned out to be. While a few photos belonged on the list, many seemed to be included for celebrity/novelty purposes only and hardly qualified to be in such august company. A selfie of some momentarily popular Hollywood personalities? Jackie O walking across a street? Oh, please. Off the top of my head, I could name several iconic photos that were shockingly absent. So could anyone else with even a nodding acquaintance with history and photography. Among others, Ross Baughman’s work needed to be featured. Like so many other formerly great publications, Time magazine has lost its way and given over to the cult of ephemeral nonsense. Sad.

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