Last month, TIME was excited to welcome Alice Gabriner as our new International Photo Editor. No stranger to the publication, Gabriner photo edited TIME’s National section from 2000 to 2003 and then International from 2003 to 2009, including during the Iraq war.
Below, Gabriner writes about the evolving landscape of photo editing and talks us through how a photo editor and a photographer work together to overcome visual challenges.
“Even my eyes are tired of the Palestinian drama sometimes. And, that is why I get caught by the details. Conflict and pain has become ordinary.”
These reflective words expressed by Photojournalist Alexandra Boulat back in 2006 capture the challenges photographers face covering news stories in the modern age of repetitive imagery. Alex was living in Ramallah covering the ongoing violence, though she feared her pictures would no longer have impact. As a result, she began to point her camera in a different direction by photographing the mundane – a flower pot in a hospital room, toothbrushes in a Gaza bathroom, and a refrigerator without electricity.
The frustrations of taking and looking at pictures of scenes we’ve seen too many times, makes us seek out new ways of seeing and presenting work.
On my first day of work, last month, the U.S. launched airstrikes against extremist fighters from ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria) in Syria. I’d just returned to TIME as the International Photo Editor, a job I once held between 2003 and 2009 when Iraq was at the center of the U.S.’s news agenda and when I talked to photographers covering the war more than to friends in New York City.
After a five-year hiatus – as Deputy Director of Photography at the White House, and as a Senior Photo Editor at National Geographic – I am back at TIME as the International Photo Editor. There is so much here at TIME that has remained the same, yet almost everything is different.
Photography as a common global language has become more vital than ever – it has the ability to reach audiences on a massive scale. Web based templates offer more vibrant opportunities for storytelling. Where many of our favorite pictures used to end up on the cutting room floor — because they didn’t fit the story of the week, a top editor didn’t like it, or there was limited space, now LightBox enables longer and more visual edits. Plus, as a photo editor I have a greater voice in crafting that edit. With social media we can spread those stories and see immediate reaction.
But, the most concerning of challenges facing photographers and those who support them in the field – fixers, translators and drivers – is the looming lack of security. Being responsible for photographers working in such dangerous places has always been a stressful part of the job, but in today’s world the stakes are higher. The gruesome videos depicting the beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid worker David Haines and Alan Henning, are painful reminders of the unpredictable risks photographers and journalists take when they go off to do their job. These foreign tragedies have become personal, affecting too many friends and colleagues.
Technology continues to transform how we take pictures, as well as the speed with which they are edited and delivered to the pubic. And though the number of photographs created on a daily basis grows exponentially, they often lack context or thoughtful presentation, due, in no small part, to the streaming nature of today’s news industry where virality is favored.
Photographs have the ability to shape our understanding of events, yet an over saturation of imagery can have the opposite effect, by making people tune out and turn away. In this climate of visual overload, I believe it is important to show a different perspective, to present a unique voice, to offer a new entry into a world we wouldn’t see otherwise.
I’ve learned early on that the rules of yesterday don’t necessarily apply today. But change does bring the ability to try a different way, to find a new path, to think in a creative way, and to innovate.
Alice Gabriner is TIME’s International Photo Editor.