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Using abstraction to portray employees at war.

Pictorial coverage of employee involvement in the Persian Gulf War continues to flow across my desk. Snapshots of soldiers in Saudi Arabia, stock shots of military equipment in action, welcome-home celebrations. Yet only a handful of images appearing in organizational publications really told the story as it should have been told. Pictures made as photojournalism were hard to come by--corporate editors usually had to rely on what was supplied to them. Thus very few pictures of employee involvement in the Gulf War were able to bring this intensely human event home to readers.

Those that did so, worked primarily because of what they did not show. Photographic abstraction, not description, is the key to involving the imagination of the reader.

Southern Company Highlights (Atlanta, Ga.) ran Mississippi Power's Pat Wylie's shot showing an employee and his son bound for Saudi Arabia that captured the moment of departure. It is quite abstract--we see only hands, arms, faces, part of a truck. One set of hands is frozen, the other blurred--the camera freezes a moment of time forever.

Elsewhere in the same magazine, Alex Irizarry uses abstraction to turn a routine homecoming shot into a poignant moment. Family members greet a returning employee in the top half of the shot. A child's arms reach out at bottom. It is what is not seen--the rest of the child --that makes the picture reach into our imaginations.

In Ilene Scalzi's shot of an employee holding a newspaper announcing the start of the war, abstraction once again plays an important role. Shooting for the Milipore Corporation (Bedford, Mass.) employee publication, Scalzi uses two symbols--the yellow ribbon and the newspaper--to support the somewhat anxious expression of the woman. We read in the caption that her son is a Marine major at war. What is going on in her mind? Our imaginations take it from there.

I wish more organizational photographers had the ability to use abstract, nonliteral, approaches as did Wylie, Irizarry and Scalzi. The human imagination is a powerful force--and abstract photographs can serve it well.

The Gulf War is over, but these pictures will forever remain a testimony to what it meant to the people portrayed in them.
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Title Annotation:Photocritique
Author:Douglis, Philip N.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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