images that once could move a nation…..
In November, 1936, Henry Luce, founder of Time Magazine gave birth to a new publication: LIFE.
We barely remember it now, but at one time LIFE was an American icon. People waited eagerly for its arrival. It presented a window on the world. Within months of its publication, its circulation rose to more than 1 million and remained strong for decades.
With LIFE, Luce captured a technological trend and translated it into a new kind of journalism.
Small, lightweight still cameras had just percolated into the market. Invented by Leica, in conjunction with plastic roll film developed by Agfa at the same time, it changed the course of photography. Taking pictures now became infinitely easier, and soon the world was awash in images.
Most of them were terrible.
A few were great. New talents were arising.
What Luce was able to do was to seize on this new, inexpensive visual technology and create for it both a platform for distribution and a new grammar for visual storytelling.
The very first issue of LIFE contained a five page essay by photographer Alfred Eisenstaadt. This was unthinkable. But Luce had courage, and vision. He went on to create the ‘photoessay’, a way of telling stories solely with pictures. This too had never been done before, but it went on to spawn a whole raft of competitors.
As LIFE was a child of technology, so too was it a victim. By the 1960s, the arrival of television had pretty much destroyed LIFE’s appeal. By the time images arrived via the mailman, everyone had pretty much seen them already, and LIFE evaporated as it had arrived – quickly.
The low cost of video technology and the proliferation of small cameras in so many hands today bears a striking resemblance to the same event more than 70 year ago, except now it is video. Instead of a world awash in millions of bad still images, we have Youtube.
What we need now is another Henry Luce.. but this time for video.
We need someone who will cull from the great morass of coke bottles and mentos the best and the most talented of a new generation of video journalists, as Luce found a generation of photo journalists.
Then we need a new grammar – as Luce created the photo essay to reflect story telling in pictures, we need now the video essay, to reflect story telling in video. This is vastly different from pointing a video camera at a reporter and having the reporter talk to the camera – followed by a few cut aways of police tape.
Finally, we need a platform, as LIFE was a platform.
I think all the pieces are there – the talent, the grammar and the web.
What we need now is to put them together, with the courage to embrace something new.
Henry Luce had courage.