Why context is important

Today’s photograph is from a photo shoot I was doing for an interior design company. Nothing terribly profound about the photo, just a bunch of stuff the painters wrapped in plastic to protect it as they painted and moved stuff around. I did like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle looking as if he was trying to get to the broom, his internal struggles with the obsessive desire to clean, thwarted by being wrapped in the magic plastic keeping him from getting to the broom. The never ending struggle between a desire for freedom and the comfort of being controlled. Or am I projecting something here?

And, as usual this photo reminds me of something that really has nothing much to do with anything in the photo. When I was studying photojournalism I worked on the school newspaper. We had two faculty advisors, each was an amazing teacher in very different ways, and they often came close to fighting things only journalists would care about, but it was a wonderful education, most importantly on how to argue over seemingly meaningless topics. The one thing they did agree on completely was they would allow us to make our own mistakes, they would advise only on the editorial pages, sometimes pulling us back on more pedantic arguments about politics. Other than that they did not look at the page layouts prior to them being printed. My first issue as editor, which I did mostly alone, my staff had better things to do. I assume they all went off and had sex with each other or something. Leaving me alone to produce a 16 page tabloid newspaper. It was a disaster, I wish I still had a copy, there were spelling errors everywhere, stories that jumped to nowhere, copy that ended mid-sentence, captions that made no logical sense. It was truly a masterpiece of failure.

As bad as that issue was, I was able to laugh it off. At least I did it, the paper came out, and the staff felt bad (at least a little) and began to actually do their jobs.

The photo above reminds me of another disaster involving context and a headline. I think it was the Dean of the humanities department, our faculty advisor’s boss, who was a friend of the artist Christo. Christo and Jeanne-Claude had just completed their work “The Pont Neuf Wrapped” and the Dean was quite honored to offer us the opportunity to publish photographs and original sketches of the work, and a short interview with Christo. None of us working on the paper really knew much about Christo or the importance of his work, but it seemed interesting so we agreed to do the story.

As we were finishing the layout of the paper with the Christo story, we had to come up with a headline for the article. We were doing our usual joking around to cut the stress and someone suggested a headline “Artists work in Seine” Ha, Ha, get it, the bridge is over the River Seine, and some of the fabric wrap was touching the water, so it was in the Seine. We did not mean it as an insult or anything, just thought it was funny for some reason.

And the paper was printed, lets say on a Monday (I can not remember what day the weekly paper came out, but Monday is good enough for this story).

About 20 minutes after the paper arrived on campus our faculty advisors came into the newsroom and they were not happy. We were told to stop “whatever the fuck you are doing and come with us NOW.” It became like a scene from Animal House, we were being called to the Dean’s office, but it was not funny, no one was laughing at our great joke.

It was awful for everyone involved. The Dean was truly hurt by our headline, Christo was a good friend of his, and there is no way he could show this to him. We stammered through some sort of apologies, then the Dean demanded why the faculty advisors why they did not make us change the headline. The faculty advisors said the Dean knew full well why they did not, the entire point of the school newspaper was for us to make mistakes and learn from them. We were dismissed and the Dean and the advisors met for a while after we left. I have no idea what they talked about, all I know is we were terrified and so embarrassed.

Did  I learn my lesson? Sort of, I have had to fail from time to time to learn similar hard lessons. Failure is part of life, and is the only we can grow as people, artists, parents, children or whatever.

Ok, time for some honesty here. I am not totally sure if I remember the story entirely correctly, but the lesson learned is totally accurate.

Oh, one more thing, as I wrote that last sentence I have to admit I moved the broom in the photo. It was on the other side of the pile of boxes, I though it worked better where I put it. That would be an ethical violation in journalism, but this is not journalism.

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