This paper aims to broadly address a PhD research stream that the author has been conducting to date, whose historical objective is press photography, specifically the published images in La Jornada newspaper. A visual speech of the various contexts lived in Mexico at the end of the twentieth century. In the following lines, the author will present her methodology proposal with the aim of learning and analyzing the speech created by press photography and its relation to historical reality. A journalistic speech generating a language describing events, but at the same time a language manipulated by the subjectivity of the author – the press photographer. A historical timeline of which the photojournalist was part and which influenced the manner historical reality was perceived by the receiving social group.
It is important to clarify that this database does not intend to replace the estimations which could be obtained by directly and individually analyzing each photograph. However, this instrument has allowed the author to collect a great quantity of readable graphic and textual information, as well as to describe the characteristic attributes of each image as a documentary unit. In other words, the author intends to address the visual events as a part of the historical events, as claimed by the Mexican historian Ricardo Pérez Montfort. This to provide an in-depth study on how historical, social, cultural and political phenomena were registered by press photography; not omitting history, this specific moment, punctually requires photography and written journalism as a vestige. The latter not only with the purpose of going further on the functions of photography but also on the significance of the photographic phenomenon and the visual speech within social and cultural history of a country.
Furthermore, the author will present, to the extent possible, some elements which have allowed the identification of the manner in which the editor(s) of the newspaper impacted the presentation of visual speech, as well as the interests and visions of the social group they represent. This is a way to go further on different assumptions, such as the person taking the picture, the person editing it – after reaching the editorial and ideological line of the newspaper – as well as the person publishing the picture; a new manner to address editorial work and photojournalism on written media. To achieve the aforementioned aim, this essay comprehends the intertextuality and visual production, as well as the contexts lived throughout the six-year Presidential terms of office of Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, through diverse published images in La Jornada newspaper from 1984 to 2000.
This research not only addresses the generated material by the photojournalists of La Jornada newspaper during this period but also includes, as a part of the oral history methodology, the testimonies of some assistant directors, people in charge of the photography department, the editor, the designer and photographers who stood out in the newspaper. In addition, the author has a database which has allowed to collect, store and connect information present in each of the photographs published on different covers and back covers of the newspaper. It comprises 15 categories which have been nurturing the database (reviewed dates, journalistic and photographic genders, reporters, pages, published photographs, photograph format, themes of the photographs, places, characters, titles of the photographs, photograph caption, credit, photograph composition, angle and time). It is important to clarify that this database does not intend to replace the estimations which could be obtained from directly and individually analyzing each photograph. However, this instrument has allowed the author to collect a great quantity of readable graphic and textual information, as well as to describe the characteristic attributes of each image as a documentary unit.
Rodríguez, S. (2019), "Mexican photojournalism: the visual narrative of
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited
The main argument that justifies this work is based on the premise that journalistic photography, as a testimony, registers a fraction of reality and can leave a mark or transcend as a social document and can even be identified as a reliable historical source of a fact informative. While as a premeditated act of memory, the cultural representation of the worker of the lens can materialize in the photo, as well as the political and ideological line of the editors and the media that requests and publishes the material. A kind of reading of the discursive constructions is made by the press photographer in image and on a sensitive paper, such as the photographic one.
Without omitting that when analyzing a fraction of reality, recorded in each analogue press photograph or documentary unit, this proposal contemplates that there are no neutral or innocent photos and yes a deliberate memory, in which subjectively seeks to identify the attributes of the author, that is, the photographer in front of his time; besides identifying the possible evaluation of the medium that determined the page, the epigraph, the caption and the titles, among other elements; without forgetting that in narrative terms, the text helps the construction of history in which photography is a reflected moment.
To this must be added the element of communication theory that states that the photograph that “opens” a note must be more symbolic than any other, but in this sense, it should be clarified that “the social function of the press at a public event does not include the control on them”, as established by the theorist of communication, Manuel Martín Serrano, hence the argument to address the covers and back covers of the newspaper, as well as the trinomial: image-medium context.
The objective and main source of this PhD research are the published journalistic images in Mexico, from 1984 to 2000, especially on the covers and back covers of La Jornada newspaper – visual stories of the social context of our country. The objective and main source of this PhD research are a published journalistic images in Mexico, from 1984 to 2000, especially in the covers and back covers of La Jornada newspaper; visual stories of the social context of this country. I intend to use both bibliohemerographic information and oral history to know and analyze the speech created by photography and its relation to historical reality at that moment: a language describing the events lived by the social group but, at the same time, manipulated by the subjectivity of the author generating the photograph.
This essay pretends to be a social–historical analysis addressing the work of the newspaper photographers and publishers, considering the latter as the ones who impacted the presentation of visual speech, as well as the interests and visions of the social group they represent. The idea is to go further and highlight the documentary value of photojournalism, as well as to recreate a fragment of history from the photographers’ point of view.
Hence, to tell the history of the last part of the twentieth century, it is necessary to address the different communication media which have participated in the articulation and functioning of social reality; specially, written journalism through which lifestyles, traditions, attitudes and concerns of a particular period can be known.
The aforementioned elements, as well as other elements to be identified in the development of this research, will be the theoretical, methodological and conceptual bases to attempt confirming secondary objectives. For instance, the one objective establishing that when identifying and highlighting the double articulation of journalistic images – as both document and creation – it is possible to scrutinize in contemporary topics and hemerographic materials; specifically in a journalistic image used as information source, every time whether it records or not the relevant facts of daily reality, behind its referential insight of the facts.
The other secondary objective states that photographs published in La Jornada record the lack of efficiency of applied policies and social movements. Furthermore, these photographs show a gap between campaign proposals and citizens’ claims or priorities and the main characters of official and dissident acts.
Moreover, they show gestures and reactions of the characters from diverse political forces or organizations of that period; faces and actions of the Mexican politics; and a vision of the world with different copyright, namely, the press photographers – a product of a cultural, social and political environment resulting from a particular era – and its contradictions.
La Jornada broke the political iconographic image and the protocol tradition of presenting flawless, serious and formal entrepreneurs and politicians; however, La Jornada invaded when emphasizing various or new stereotypes, such as las mujeres de la calle (Red light women) – currently known as sex workers – or indigenous women; old people –currently known as senior citizens; handicapped people – currently known as men and women with a disability; or working men at farms or factories, all together as a visual story highlighting the political opposition from the subordinate class.
This essay aims to be a part of social history, cultural history, current history, Mexican press history and above all photojournalism history in our country. Nonetheless, it is important to clarify that this work does not attempt to replace the estimations which could be obtained by directly and individually analyzing each photograph. However, this instrument will allow to collect a great quantity of readable graphic and textual information and to describe the characteristic attributes of each image as a documentary unit.
The above, considering that photography informs and contains concrete facts and that it can even transcend in time and space for it to be used for its historical and documentary value as social memory.
I stop here to comment about this picture, which was taken in the Azteca Stadium by Luis Humberto González, during the opening ceremony of the 13th FIFA World Cup, in 1986 (Figure 1).
That day, May 31, the most significant historical event was the notorious booing to Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado. The President referred to this fact as striking and unpleasant. He argued that the public – of middle and upper-middle class – were angered by the traffic because people had to endure to arrive to the Azteca Stadium and by the thorough check they went through before getting into the stadium. Besides, before his speech “they had to listen to other three fairly long ones”.
De la Madrid (2004, p. 581) recognizes his governorship was unpopular “because the great and long-lasting economic crisis that the country is facing”; however, he said, “the booing should not be seen as a negative referendum of the government”.
On behalf of the editorial from the newspaper, La Jornada, on June 1, on the left side of the pictures, one can read:
[…] the World Cup started, and the most remarkable thing was the public’s reaction to the Mexican president’s presence during the inaugural ceremony. When his name was announced, a giant chorus began questioning the presence of the president. This situation deserves special attention, and calls for reflection from political and social actors. It was not a concerted action nor was it a premeditated deed. Rather it was a visceral and spontaneous response to the ‘personification’ of the vicissitudes present in the vast majority of the Mexicans’ lives (La Jornada, 1986).
The photo caption says “The wave at the Azteca Stadium levels,” and the title assigned to the image was “Two billion people watched the inaugural ceremony of the 1986 World Cup.” Pablo Hiriart begins his news story published in La Jornada by describing how the President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, with a brief message of peace and friendship among all nations on Earth, inaugurated the 13th FIFA World Cup in the midst of a long and rowdy booing coming from the hundred thousand aficionados that attended the Azteca Stadium.
It should be noted that at that time, the description of a fact like the aforementioned was only the reporters’ task, not the photographers’. The chronicle substituted the image, especially when the presidential figure was questioned or rebuked.
Press photography has inherent cannons related to the president and unwritten laws that resulted from a long interaction with the authorities in charge of looking after the political image.
The nuances of ordinary human beings are not shown as belonging to such important public figures:
[…] nor laughter, nor cry, nor rage, nor lust, nor fatigue […] The written story – not the picture – is the one in charge of communicating whatever and however, according to the parameters of the genre and the broadness of the editorial criterion in a certain historical period. The photographic record must expose an accurate and unimpeachable image in agreement with the demands of patriot symbolism. It should turn an image into a photo (Ortiz, 1994: pp. 12-13).
Furthermore, pictures have also given account of certain important social demands, such as the ones from January 22, 1987, on which the biggest student demonstration since 1968 took place in the Mexico city’s Zócalo and Ciudad Universitaria. These pictures were taken by Elsa Medina and Fabricio León (Figure 2).
With regard to syndical movements, Raúl Ortega’s picture, published on April 25, 1989, gives an account of the protest of 200,000 teachers in Mexico city’s Zócalo (Figure 3). In respect of cultural issues, a picture that stands out was the one taken by Frida Hartz on October 12, 1990, when Octavio Paz became the first Mexican laureate of the Nobel Prize of Literature (Figure 4). Regarding the consequences for omission, negligence and corruption, Fabricio León’s work is one of the many existing examples. On April 23, 1992, he realized the repercussions of a gas explosion in Guadalajara, Jalisco (Figure 5).
La Jornada also included in its covers different variations of Mexican politics, such as diplomacy, which Frida Hartz captured on November 27, 1990, the Mexican President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and the American President, George H. W. Bush (Figure 6) getting along in a charreada (rodeo) in Agualeguas municipality of Nuevo León.
In terms of religion and politics, Víctor Mendiola reported in his picture, published on November 2, 1991, an outstanding fact during Salinas de Gortari’s Third Governance Report: the attendance of the Cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada and Mexico’s Apostolic Nuncio, Girolamo Prigione (Figure 7).
Finally, regarding politicians’ deeds, a picture taken by José Antonio López and published on March 18, 1995, has gone beyond time. This picture shows what was defined as the roquesignal, which occurred in the lower house and during the Tax Reform. The former Federal Deputy and Coordinator of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party by its Spanish acronym) legislators, Roque Villanueva, was captured when he reacted to the raise of the value-added tax, from 10 per cent during the governorship of López Portillo, to 15 per cent in 1995 (Figure 8).
Furthermore, Fabricio León’s pictures rescued from the photographic archive of La Jornada give account of the heritage that a fearsome public officer, Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios, left after his death on October 30, 2000. These were formal and official pictures at the time (Figure 9).
All the examples aforementioned are only a sample of front and back covers of the newspaper, La Jornada, that I will use in the attempt of giving a historical record of the past 15 years of the twentieth century in Mexico. The purpose is not only to show how our society was during the past but also “how they imagine it to be” (Pérez, 2012, p. 24, p. 25).
This work will also include, as part of the oral history methodology, testimonials of some assistant directors from the photography industry, such as photography supervisors and editors, as well as the most noted photographers of the newspaper.
A way of deepening different imaginaries of the photographer, editor and publisher is to mention a new method for addressing editorial work and photojournalism in written media. For doing this, it will be necessary to work with intertextuality and visual production and also to give historical background of the governorships of Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León by means of diverse pictures published by La Jornada between 1984 and 2000.
Newspaper sources are related with the pictures’ particular context and the esthetic, historical and/or documentary intention of their creator to take advantage of the invaluable richness of newspaper sources, as Stanley (1965, p. 8) states:
[…] although not an impeccable source, the newspaper can provide us with a continuous story of the ongoing events of a locality. The Mexican press, however, offers the researcher more than just a simple column or report of the current events. The daily press and the periodical literature of weekly, bimonthly and monthly publications made a way out for historical memory, documents, historical evidence, analyses and controversies that in other places reach the public through academic journals or books.
The main idea is to provide historical information about the role of press and media’s visual discourse in articulating social realities, but, most importantly, to provide history for all the methodological maintenance that is needed to use photographs published in press as a social memory. This proposal seeks to paraphrase the historian, Ricardo Pérez Montfort, “analyze visual events as part of historical events.” This is to deepen the way in which the most important historical, social and political moments were recorded, without bypassing the fact that the history of this particular moment lies heavily on photography and press as witnesses with their own presence and identity. Hence, this work will delve not only in photography’s features but also in the significance of photographic and visual discourse language within social history.
Note: This article is a part of the doctoral research conducted by the Advisory Committee (Director, María del Carmen Collado and coauthors, Sergio Miranda and Rebeca Monroy), appointed by the Department of Graduate Studies in History at UNAM. All the quotations herein, as well as the full text, were translated and interpreted by the author.
List of infographics performed by Susana Rodríguez Aguilar
|Image 1||La Jornada||May 31,1986||Luis Humberto González|
|Image 2||La Jornada||January 22, 1987||Elsa Medina/Fabricio León|
|Image 3||La Jornada||April 25, 1989||Raúl Ortega|
|Image 4||La Jornada||October 12, 1990||Frida Hartz|
|Image 5||La Jornada||April 23, 1992||Fabricio León|
|Image 6||La Jornada||November 27, 1990||Frida Hartz|
|Image 7||La Jornada||November 2, 1991||Víctor Mendiola|
|Image 8||La Jornada||March 18, 1995||José Antonio López|
|Image 9||La Jornada||October 30, 2000||Fabricio León|
De la Madrid, M.Y.A.L. (2004), Cambio de Rumbo. Testimonio de Una Presidencia 1982-1988, Colección Vida y pensamiento de México, México, FCE.
Laguna, A. (2013), “Historia de la prensa, una historia en construcción”, en la Revista Semestral de los Estudiantes de la Licenciatura en Historia, Horizonte Histórico, número 7, enero-junio 2013, Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes, México.
La Jornada (1986), Editorial, 1° junio 1986, en La Jornada.
Ortiz, M. (1994), Imagen inédita de un presidente, Un retrato de Carlos Salinas de Gortari por 23 fotógrafos de prensa. México, Destellos.
Pérez, T. (2012), “Se puede escribir historia a partir de imágenes? El historiador y las fuentes icónicas”, en la Revista Memoria Social, enero-junio, Bogotá, Colombia.
Stanley, R. (1965), Fuentes Para la Historia Contemporánea de México: Periódicos y Revistas, Vol. 1, El Colegio de México, México.
About the author
Susana Rodríguez graduated with honors with a master’s degree in History and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Collective Communication. Furthermore, she studied Specialization in Informative Law. She is responsible for dissemination and a founding partner of Red de Estudios Visuales Latinoamericanos (Network of Latin American Visual Studies) and a member of Red de Historiadores de la Prensa (Network of Press Historians). Currently, she is a PhD candidate in History of a postgraduate program at UNAM.
The following are some of the recent activities in which she has participated: she was a member of the International Jury for the International Essay Award LimaraClara 2015 from LimaClara Publishing House in Argentina; she was awarded the third place in the Concurso de Ensayo. Periodismo de Investigación, Libertad de Prensa y el Entorno Digital: Prensa Escrita, Medios Electrónicos y Redes Sociales (Essay competition – Research Journalism, Press Freedom and Digital Environment: Written Press, Electronic Media and Social Media) of Revista Zócalo (Zócalo Magazine) in December 2015; and she participated in the International Research Awards of Social Sciences: Arguments. Critical Studies of Society and the international jury recommended the publication of her work, Discurso social del fotógrafo Pedro Valtierra (Social Speech of the photographer Pedro Valtierra) (Revista Argumentos No. 71). She has been a presenter and speaker on photojournalism, Mexican social, cultural and contemporary history and on transparency and access to information.
On political, cultural and education matters, she has carried out different informative notes, coverage, interviews and articles, published in El Diario de Monterrey (Monterrey’s Journal), La Crónica de Hoy, el Semanario Punto, la Revista Líderes Mexicanos (Mexican Leaders Magazine) and Mira Magazine. On current history and photojournalism history matters in Mexico, she has published in magazines such as Historia Regional de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Regional History of the National University of Colombia) (HiSTOReLo, in Spanish), Argumentos de la Universidad Autónoma de México (Arguments of the Autonomous University of Mexico), Horizonte Histórico de la Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes (Horizonte Histórico of the Autonomous University of Aguascalientes), Universitarios Potosinos de la Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí (Students of the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí) and Cuartoscuro magazine; as well as on websites such as Indexofoto (Montevideo, Uruguay), Publica Tuobra UNAM and Proyecto 1x1: platform for dissemination and reflection on photography. She has also performed different rolls such as Public Officer, Lecturer, Professional Examination Committee Member and Thesis Advisor.
In the First National Essay Competition on Transparency Culture, professional category, convened by the Instituto Estatal de Acceso a la Información Pública (State Institute for Public Information Access) (IEAIP, in Spanish) of Oaxaca, she was granted with honorable mention award for the text Impacto del acceso a la información y de la transparencia en el devenir social: el ejercicio periodístico (Impact of Information Access and Transparency on Social Progress: The Journalistic Profession) (2009). In the National Essay Competition on Personal Data Protection, convened by IEAIP and México Infórmate, she was granted with honorable mention award for the text: Cultura individual de la protección de datos sensibles (Individual Culture for Sensitive Data Protection) (2011).