This exercise required you to cut some pictures from a newspaper and devise some captions, explain how the text contextualises or re-contextualises the image, and explore the meanings given to the photographs.
Over the last week or so I’ve been drawn to the sad story about the 14 year old girl who was dying of cancer and was granted her dying wish to have her body cryogenically frozen. Her father, also suffering with cancer, was initially opposed to her wishes and felt that it was exploitation of the vulnerable and offering false hope to those dying; he later changed his mind during the court case, saying “It was the last and only thing she has asked from me”.
I thought this would be an interesting story to base this exercise on as the photos had to remain fairly innocuous to preserve the anonymity of the young girl and to shield viewers from the reality of the processes involved in cryogenically preserving a body: Essentially blood is drained from the body and replaced with organ-preserving chemicals, then the corpse is lowered head first into liquid nitrogen, suspended upside down, in large tanks along with other preserved bodies. This was clearly not a story that would give way easily to a set of clear, fact-filled, photojournalistic images.
I decided to look at two radically different style of newspapers (on-line) to understand how each would approach the story and what images they would use to illustrate it, if any. I read articles from the Guardian and Daily Mail newspapers.
The Guardian added blunt and factual text to the image of the tanks:-
‘The Cryonics Institute uses insulated tanks for the long-term storage of bodies in liquid nitrogen. Photograph: Cryonics Institute/EPA
Looking at this image without any supporting captions or story, the photograph could be open to a wide range of interpretations as to the subject of the story. I would guess at milk vats or cheese-making urns, or something else equally farming or business-orientated, maybe “Brexit to impact the price of milk in supermarkets causing concern among farming communities and consumers alike”….
The Daily Mail conversely, used emotive words right from the headline of the story downwards, paired with multiple images of the cryogenics laboratory. The story headline reads:
“The icy tomb of Britain’s frozen teenager: Pictured for the first time, the -196C cryo-tank where body of 14-year-old cancer girl is hung upside down in a £10 sleeping bag with FIVE other corpses”
The story then starts in typical Daily Mail ‘shock’ style on the lead up to the image of the tanks (I have emboldened the words that go beyond being an ‘anchor’ to the image, but are more divisive, and lend more to a ‘relay’ and particular slant of interpretation to the photograph…
“Inside the 10ft high white fibre-glass vat of liquid nitrogen …. her body is stored upside down, strapped to a wooden plant, wrapped in a sheet and nylon sleeping bag. Alongside her in the tank are five other bodies….. Yesterday I stood next to this frozen grave and shivers ran down my spine. This was the most surreal of cemeteries“..
Just as equally, this image is, on its own, very innocuous, although the added magnification of the batch number on the side of the tank might lead us as a viewer to think that this is more about a scientific issue rather than a farming story:- Interestingly, the Daily Mail reverts back to a somewhat banal caption actually accompanying the image compared to its previous use of language, but it reverts much more to an ‘anchor’ approach, where the words support what can be seen in the image, with less of a sense of outrage or abhorrence to the story:-
“Pictured: This tank stores the British teen, known as patient 143 – after she won a high court battle to be cryogenically frozen.”
Other images from the Daily Mail article continue in a similar vein and I’ve included comments against each…
Top Left: “Pictured: A theatre at the Cryogenics Institute showing a table where staff prepare the patients.” This again is largely an ‘anchor’ caption, and the use of the word ‘patients’, whilst on the face of it could be seen as emotive, is actually not in any way as its a factual representation of the name the staff use to call the bodies. I would suggest an alternative caption to someone not knowing the story could be “NHS waiting lists at breaking point but operating theatres underutilised”…
Bottom Left: “Pictured: Columns of filing cabinets keep patients’ vital personal documents safely locked away at the Cryogenics Institute at Michegan, USA.” An alternative headline could be “Black Friday Office Furniture sale at IKEA does not hit target sales…”
Above Right:-“Pictured: A model shows how the equipment at the Cryogenics Institute works”. Again, the caption is in the style of an anchor. Without having read the story I might have interpreted the image as “Local fundraising achieves target to buy life-saving equipment for RNLI”… or something similar..
I suppose in summary no images alone in this story would ultimately make someone thing of Cryogenics, apart from the ones where the logo is clearly shown, or an image of the outside of the laboratory complete with a sign… It was a good exercise to underline the difficulties press photographers and photojournalists have in covering a story and supporting it with the use of photographs that actually add to the story. There is a sinister somewhat morbid curiosity around these images and this is something which the Mail on Sunday in its article capitalised on. However, when digesting the story, it was the actual narrative of the article that provided all the information.
Siddique, H. for The Guardian (2016) Cryogenics: Frozen girl’s father says providers exploit the vulnerable At https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/nov/20/cryonics-frozen-girls-father-says-providers-exploit-the-vulnerable Accessed at 20/11/2016
Adams, S. for the Mail on Sunday (2012) The icy tomb of Britain’s frozen teenager At http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3953068/The-frozen-tomb-Britain-s-frozen-teenager-Pictured-time-196C-cryo-tank-14-year-old-cancer-girl-laid-rest-alongside-FIVE-patients.html#ixzz4QYNl1LCX Accessed at 20/11/2016