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Annual Report Photojournalism: Telling It Like It Is.

Thirty-six years ago, when I started writing this column, the typical annual report featured pictures of spotless buildings and gleaming products. Today, the computer has replaced the smokestack as the icon of business. Although the production of goods may always remain an important sector of our economy, the emphasis is now on services. We have moved with stunning speed into the information age, and the pictorial content of annual reports should reflect this change by featuring more pictures of people and fewer pictures of things.

Unfortunately, the majority of annual report photographs are still made by commercial photographers, rather than photojournalists. Commercial photographers generally photograph people as they photograph machines, products and buildings. They carefully light them, pose them and direct them. They want them to "look good." Although their work may be technically competent, commercial photographers are better suited to advertising than editorial work. Their work is usually descriptive, rather than interpretive.

It is always refreshing to see that rare annual report that relies instead on photojournalists -- photographers who base their work on human rather than mechanical values, who use abstraction to activate the imaginations of viewers, who tell a story in pictures instead of simply illustrating the subject.

Photojournalists bring credibility and meaning to annual report photography by making pictures that indelibly define the culture of the business itself, and more important, accurately project the talents and character of its managers and employees.

The Harleysville Insurance Company of Harleysville, Pa., offered an excellent example of this approach in its 1998 annual report. Art Director Don Diehl combined the talents of two freelance photojournalists -- Donna Jernigan of Charlotte, N.C., and Pete Byron of Morris Plains, N.J. -- to candidly capture the essence of Harleysville's people on film.

The two pictures Diehl paired on the cover of the annual report offer a study in contrasts: the man to the left of this pairing is an executive at a field office. The woman on the right is an executive at the home office. One chairs a busy meeting, the other handles a tough phone call. One looks up, the other looks down. One hides his mouth, the other her eye. One is seated before a flip-chart. The other talks with her back to a leafy world. But there are also similarities. Both bring hand to head in gestures of thought. Both sit amid a sea of paperwork. And both seem to be in the process of difficult decision making. Such pictures as these can not be arranged, directed or set up. They must be spontaneously captured on film, and Jernigan and Byron were granted the freedom to observe these events as they occurred. Using low vantage points, long lenses and fast film without intrusive flash, they become the proverbial flies on the wall. Invisible. Their subjects have long since forgotten about the camera and ar e immersed in the job at hand. They seem to be solving their problems by being good listeners.

Another picture from this annual report comments on the competence a marketing representative brings to her task. As viewers of this picture, we become the subject of her attention. Her hands eloquently express her reasoned approach to us. Jernigan's shutter has captured a facial expression that implies a confident understanding of her subject. She seems to know her stuff. She appears to be a good communicator. And she effectively symbolizes Harleysville's success at marketing its products.

A final example from the Harleysville 1998 annual report features an incisive moment from a training session. Two employees learn the latest computer technology though trial-and-error problem solving. The instructor at center watches intently from behind as the softly focused person at left struggles to learn the process. Meanwhile, a clearly defined woman at right brings a finger to her face -- perhaps she is still somewhat doubtful about the outcome. Yet the message is clear. Out of such a struggle comes learning, and Jernigan's image speaks candidly of the tough training Harleysville people must undergo.

The result for Harleysville: credible communication. Pictures such as these give its annual report the greatest advantage of photojournalism: they tell it like it is.

Philip N. Douglis, ABC, director of The Douglis Visual Workshops and widely known photographic consultant and critic, now offers his comprehensive six-person Communicating with Pictures workshops twice each year in Sedona, Arizona. He also continues to present special seminars on photographic communication on a sponsored, in-house basis to companies, associations and IABC chapters. For information on either, call Douglis at 602-493-6709 or e-mail him at also welcomes tears beets for possible use in this column. Send to The Douglis Visual Workshops, 2505 E. Carol Avenue, Phoenix AZ 85028.
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Author:Douglis, Philip N.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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