Wick Communications

When hate comes early in life

In Photography on January 17, 2013 at 4:52 pm

kkktoddrobertsonphoto

Have you ever noticed how photos take on a life of their own, sometimes outliving their origins and even morphing to mean something entirely different over time? Sometimes I notice photos from my own childhood mean one thing to me, but something entirely different to my relatives. The same is true for newspaper photos.

I had forgotten the above photo, but I was there that day. I was working for The Gainesville Times in the exurbs north of Atlanta on Sept. 5, 1992. Actually, I probably wasn’t at that particular Ku Klux Klan rally. I had moved on to sports by then, but Lord knows I had covered previous klan rallies for the newspaper.

They were always tense, sad affairs. Typically a dozen or so misguided men, surrounded by a phalanx of heavily armored state troopers, would march around the town square shouting ignorant slogans that barely could be heard behind the police barricades a block away. I remember communicating with editors over a cellular telephone – a heavy contraption I carried around in a bag the size of a small suitcase – for the first time at just such a rally.

This week, I thought of all this for the first time in 20 years because of a Poynter Institute post from David Griner. He wrote the backstory for that photo, which has since been licensed to the Southern Poverty Law Center. …

It was taken by a freelancer named Todd Robertson, who was asked to train his camera to the periphery that day. The staff photographers were working the speeches and front of the march. Robertson’s photo – a poignant moment in which a white child in the garb of hatred approached a bemused black state trooper – ran on the local section front, in black and white. Clearly, the newspaper’s editors didn’t think it prize-worthy.

But over the years the photo has been reproduced and shared. The SPLC used it in an anti-hate pamphlet. Photographers shared it on blogs. Griner saw it on Facebook. The image itself has become much more important than the event ever was.

There is a lesson in there somewhere. I don’t know what we ran on the front page that day. Someone made the judgment that the klan was not front-page news and therefore the photo belonged buried as well. It’s understandable. We were tired of giving those guys the publicity they craved.

But I would argue this: Put your best images above the fold and on the front page. Look for news features that transcend the events of the day. Juxtaposition is good – and the dichotomy between a child in klan robes and a black man in a police officer’s uniform could not have been any more stark.

And one more thing: Look back through your own pages. What was going on in your town 20 years ago today? I bet there is something you could bring back to the fore.

Clay

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