War photographers: Why not promote them?

Stephen Baker

I went to a forum at The New School a couple days ago on Women, War, and Photography. It featured four of today's greatest combat photographers: Carol Guzy of the Washington Post, Carolyn Cole of the L.A. Times, Lynsey Addario, who freelances for the Times and lots of magazines, and Samantha Appleton, who shoots for Time and the New Yorker.

Heard these names? I'll bet that if you're not heavily into journalism, or photography, you haven't. The only one I knew was Carolyn Cole, a friend since we worked together 20 years ago at a (now defunct) paper in El Paso. What I don't understand is why the newspapers, in this case the Post and LA Times, don't promote their Pulitzer Prize-winning staff photographers heavily, especially on their Web sites. These are big stars, they're among the most courageous people in the profession, and the images they capture are phenomenal. But if you go to the Web sites, you have to click and click to find any sign of them.

Newspapers turn their writing stars into columnists with their own brands, and they market those brands. But photographers? They're treated as an anonymous class. Seems like a wasted opportunity for me. And a lost opportunity to make sites more compelling. Why can't I go to the LA Times Web site and click through Cole's work in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq, New Orleans? When I finally do a search on the site and find her, I have to click blindly to find anything. They should make photos available by subject, photographer, and date. These should be the searchable archives of our visual history. If they worry about copyright, the pics don't have to be hi res. I did find a photographers' page at the Post. But it could be much more highly promoted, and more searchable.

Incidentally, these women were brought together to honor Catherine Leroy, a French journalist (and parachutist) who went to Vietnam as a 21-year-old, and became one of the first women combat photographers. (I say "one of" just to hedge a bit.) Leroy, who died last summer in Los Angeles, was a legend in an industry that doesn't promote photographers to the rest of the world. Not surprisingly, none of the women on the panel had heard of her before the event.