Alan Taylor’s leap from the Boston Globe to The Atlantic was an interesting development in the state of photography on the web. It might not seem like it on the surface, but from my perspective it signals that large media organizations are finding value in developing an audience for photography.
When The Big Picture launched a few years ago it was lauded for its use of large high resolution photos. From a conceptual perspective, it’s not really that innovative. After all, there have been galleries of current event photos on places like Yahoo! for years.
What made The Big Picture different?
Three things in my mind.
1) Big photos – This of course, is the most obvious but for a large media organization to embrace big photos was a big deal.
2) Curation/Editing – The selection is well edited. There’s consideration for sequencing and providing a visual overview of current events.
3) A Branded Blog – Creating a branded blog elevated the content and brought in fans that might not have otherwise visited. I don’t read the Boston Globe, so if they had this buried somewhere on their site, I’d likely never see it. Creating a branded blog with its own feed made it easy to follow.
Big Photo Hype
I enjoy big photos but I think there’s a bit too much hype about them. Having large photos is one part of the equation but these days it’s becoming more commonplace so it shouldn’t be the key selling point.
Pictory is a good example. Sure the design and big photos are integral to the experience, but what makes it really work in my estimation is the thematic editing, the stories and how well they understand their core audience.
I’m not sure what the optimal viewing size is for photographs on the web, perhaps we’ll arrive at a consensus soon. Too frequently the presentation of large photos is still a bit cumbersome. I’m specifically thinking about fullscreen viewing. We’ve toyed with it here, but I’m not convinced it’s the best way forward.
What excites me most about Taylor’s move is the fact that a magazine such as The Atlantic recognizes the value in what Taylor has done and believes there’s a large enough audience for photography to support the endeavor. I’m sure many other media organizations will be following closely to see if takes off.
That’s understandable, but I really wish they’d take the dive sooner than later. For example, think if Rolling Stone had a dedicated photography blog that showcased new work and work from their archive in a ‘Big Picture’ type manner? It’d be awesome. It’d be popular and I think it’d bring a whole new audience that appreciates the historical significance of the photography they’ve published over the years.
It doesn’t take much imagination to start listing other magazines that could do the same thing.
Perhaps one hesitation is the desire to keep the high quality photography in print. I can understand that but with the archives some of these mags and newspapers have they could still create something unique for the web.
Going Big at The Local Level
As much as I sometimes enjoy viewing current events photographs, they’re not exactly the most exciting thing to look at on a daily basis. I understand there are plenty of people that do though, and I think it’s great that type of work is being widely viewed.
What I’m more interested in are the local stories and how the ‘big picture’ approach can be used to help those reach a wider audience. If you’re a local newspaper, it doesn’t make sense for you to set up a blog similar to ‘The Big Picture.’ It just becomes redundant, much like most wire news these days.
What I think would be interesting is if smaller newspapers created branded dedicated photography blogs with big pictures to tell stories about their communities. This is something I would personally find fascinating. If I could subscribe to a photography blog from hometown, I’d be all over it. I’m sure there are some out there already, and if you know of them, please pass them along.
These types of blogs would also be great incubators for local photojournalism students. The newspapers could select interns from local schools and give some training and exposure for their work.
“The Web is a Visual Medium”
The environment has changed. Web users obviously have faster computers and bigger screens than they did when we first experimented; Youtube has made web video ubiquitous and commensurately familiar; Facebook has made it easier for people to share video with friends; smartphones and DSLR cameras have encouraged an explosion of amateur film-making. – Nick Denton
He may have been talking about his Gawker empire, but much of what he says applies to all media companies. I believe there’s a huge and growing demand for photography because of the internet. We can debate all day about the merits of some of the work, that’s fine.
But if you step back and take a look at the wider perspective, then I think you’ll see we’re entering an era where there’s a growing appreciation and demand for photography. Hopefully because of that we’ll see some exciting editorial initiatives and innovative approaches to presenting photography on the web.