Just as Mackie’s passion for historical images of the momentous and the everyday led to a major Vancouver Art Gallery show for Herzog in 2007, it’s also been the impetus for a new exhibit of a 500-image sample of the newspaper photos at Satellite Gallery in the old A&B Sound building on Seymour.
But here it’s not just about the images — although there are some gems here, including a shot of the Duke of Edinburgh having a chin-wag with top Nazi Joseph Goebbels — but the ratty prints themselves. Most are yellowed with age or by hasty hand-developing in the darkroom under deadline duress. Some of the black-and-whites are slashed by red crop marks. Some subjects are halo'd in hand-drawn black felt pen to “knock out” the background, or have sizes scrawled in the margins in standard-issue blue grease pencil.
Anyone who has worked in newspapers before it all went digital knows that these are also the markings of daily power struggles between photographers and page editors or graphic artists, or, in the case of community weeklies where I spent my career, photographers and the reporters who were responsible for laying out their own sections of the paper.
Ian Lindsay's 1976 image of Andy Warhol shows crop marks that instruct the staff photographer's composition be reduced to a head shot. The decision eliminates the original image area that captured the rich visual details of the awkward artist's natty outfit and clasped gnarled hands.
From the behind-the-scenes view of newspapers, the 500 images at the News! show are a history of the heated arguments with staff photographers over creative control and news judgment. They speak of the daily deadline battles, some quietly awkward, others spectacular, that kept a day at the office interesting.
Today that battlefield is all but obscured, as the writers and the shooters are often the same person, or they’re not in the same building. Or country. Or time.
In an age where we’re bombarded by fleeting, non-material images, these little contested objects are mighty weighty indeed.
The Presentation House Gallery-hosted exhibit continues to March 30 at 560 Seymour. John Mackie and Vancouver Sun librarian Kate Bird talk on the topic, “The Accidental Archive” this Saturday at 3 p.m.