Photography of disasters. Objectifying registration or anticipated involvement?The news photo has become an inextricable component of journalistic organizations. The first press photo in a Dutch newspaper was printed in 1890, but it would take another forty years for the photos to be printed togethet with their corresponding news articles. This article follows the development of press photography, specifically focussing on the documentation of large disasters such as the flooddisasters in 1916 and 1953, the large cinema and hotel fires in 1934 and 1977, and the fireworks disaster of Enschede in 2000. Up until the Second World War newspapers, as opposed to illustrated magazines, would only print a single photo, which was expected to provide a complete representation of the disaster. The photographer would attempt to capture a general overview of what had happened. Only later, and especially with the flood disaster in Zeeland, were the victims of the disaster photographed. The photographer finally dared to tread within the disaster zone and capture the victims in all their misery. The result of this approach were direct and emotional portraits. Changing techniques and improving communication methods allowed the photographer to document the disaster directly- as if he were involved himself. The changes triggered questions related to the recording of disasters, even more so than before: how confronting may a photograph be? Documentation of recent events, such as Enschede and Volendam, no longer suffice with single photos; newspapers instead present extensive photo reports, which preferably document the chronological sequence of events, focussing on the victims and aid. In the end it is the news editor who decides which photograph gets printed in his or her newspaper. And even though newspapers also use photographs from the largerpress offices, and not only from their own photographers, their personal signature is still recognisable in their choices.

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Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis

Wilke, Margrith. (2002). De fotografie van rampen. Objectiverende registratie of anticiperende betrokkenheid?. Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 5(2), 11–34. doi:10.18146/tmg.523