Exchange with The Guardian regarding the questionable photos commented on by AKUS

(This email exchange between a concerned reader and the editors at The Guardian serve as an interesting follow-up to the recent post by AKUS, on the quite revealing use of photos by The Guardian to illustrate their story about British Jews’ attitudes towards Israel, by Antony Lerman.)

From: (Concerned Reader)
Subject: Query re inappropriate illustration to story
Date: Thu, 15 July 2010: 13:2

Dear Madam / Sir

It was suggested that I contact you.

Mr Medhi Hasan in his recent article on Comment is Free mentioned his discomfort with this:

Who needs “news”, eh? Take today’s Express front page. “One in five Britons will be ethnics,” screams the headline. (On the Express website, by the way, Macer Hall’s “story” is accompanied by a picture of – yep, you guessed it – two women in burqas. So now we’ve been warned what those dastardly ethnics will look like too. Thank God!)

Today, the Guardian published this story, which contained this heading and subheading:

Israel should swap land for peace, say three-quarters of British Jews: Survey finds UK’s Jewish community supports Israel’s right to defend itself but should now help create Palestinian state:

The article is accompanied by a picture of 5 (possibly 6) Hasids who look as though they are lamenting the loss of the keys to the building behind them. The photo is helpfully captioned: “Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv. The survey found British Jews have a strong affinity for Israel, with 90% having been there. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images”

Now, I understand that whilst the Express is deliberately whipping up ‘fear of the other’ and is to be derided and condemned, the Guardian is merely using a generic, stock photo of Hasids in Jaffa to illustrate a rather heartening story about Jews in the UK.  One picture is worth a thousand words and all that – for a story that didn’t need a picture when you think about it.

I’d be grateful for your thoughts on the matter.

Yours faithfully

(Concerned Reader)

From: (Concerned Reader)

Subject: Query re inappropriate illustration to story
Date: Fri, 16 July 2010: 09:10

Dear Madam/Sir

I note that you have changed the illustration to the story ‘British Jews favour ‘two-state solution’ in Israel’ from that of 5/6 perplexed orthodox Jews in Jaffa to 1 orthodox Jew walking through a London market.

Yours faithfully

(Concerned Reader)

To:  (Concerned Reader)
Subject: Re: FW: Query re inappropriate illustration to story
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 2010 11:26:57

Yes, the picture was changed by the chief subeditor soon after the article was launched yesterday – before your email arrived, so I didn’t see the original picture.

You asked in your first email why the article could not have been launched without a picture. We always do attach a photograph to articles before launching them on the website (except in very rare circumstances). We do this because the words in the caption, along with those in the headline and standfirst, direct people who are using search terms to find articles on the internet to our website. Not optimising web articles for search terms, is rather like not getting printed papers into the newsagents.

I don’t think it would have been an easy job to find a picture to illustrate this article and I don’t think the one on it now is inappropriate. However, the issues you raise are ones subeditors should be constantly keeping in mind and I’ll pass your comments on.

Best wishes

(Guardian Editor)

From: (Concerned Reader)
Subject: Query re inappropriate illustration to story
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 2010 14:19

Many thanks for your swift response.

Thanks for the explanation regarding usage of pictures – it makes sense.  I am sorry you didn’t get to see the original picture as it was ridiculous – meaning that the picture itself invited ridicule of the men who had been photographed.  I hope you do eventually look at the picture and decide whether it is appropriate to keep it in your stock to ever illustrate ‘Jews’, ‘Israelis’ or even ‘Orthodox Jews’.

It is worth thinking how you would illustrate a story about Christians in the UK (Plymouth Brethren, a Church, a Catholic nun, the Pope?), Muslims in the UK (women in burqas, a mosque, an Iman?), Jews in the UK (orthodox Jews, a synagogue, a rabbi?).

Most Christians, Muslims, Jews etc in the UK look like you and me ie. no ‘signifiers’. Semiotics helps us to not to take representations for granted as ‘reflections of reality’, enabling us to take them apart and consider whose realities they represent.

In other words, while the first picture was inaccurate, inappropriate as well as offensive as it offered Jews as objects of ridicule, the second picture represents a ‘reality’ of British Jews as ‘alien’, and ‘exotic’.  I trust that you will also pass this email on to the sub-editors.

Yours sincerely
(Concerned Reader)

Elder of Ziyon had an interesting and relevant post recently about the use of photos of chassidic Jews in stories about Israel.

Categories: Guardian

15 replies »

  1. Thank you for bringing this exchange to our attention AKUS.

    The response called up by a picture predisposes us to have a favourable or unfavourable attitude to the story it illustrates. A photograph of men in odd poses, dressed in what has come to be recognised as the customary garb of the ultra-orthodox alienates me from the subject of the article without even reading the caption. A picture of the bunch of hassidim attached to an article about UK Jews does not make me feel that the Jews talked of are familiar or sympathetic.

    Is the replacement picture any more sympathetic? It’s certainly less ridiculous, but the man’s costume, the fact that his back is turned to us (rebuff) and the odd metal structures he is passing are all negative. Again this article does not make me feel that the Jews talked of are familiar or sympathetic.

    I can recommend several websites to the Guardian where they might find hundreds of pictures of UK and other Jews to illustrate their stories. How surprising that their editors are so unadventurous.

  2. In the Elder of Ziyon link the last photo of gilad shalit from the Palestine Today is quite interesting.

    First it is a photo I have never seen before.
    If you look carefuly you’ll find the word “Mahuk” meaning erased in the back ground.
    Above it just over his right hand shoulder is Ariel Sharon (As if being his “guardian”) and on the left hand side of Shalit is a French car advert, suggesting his nationality?


  3. 5 (possibly 6) Hasids who look as though they are lamenting the loss of the keys to the building behind them

    Hilarious. Oh vay indeed!

  4. @ Margie

    The “odd metal structures he is passing” appear to be just empty market stalls. I likewise find the picture inappropriate, but I think you’re reading too much into it there.

  5. Guardian editor: “I don’t think it would have been an easy job to find a picture to illustrate this article”

    Yeah, a real conundrum: “how do we find a picture to go with a good news story about UK Jews and STILL make ’em look as alien as possible?”

    In fact it would have been the easiest thing in the world to stick up a mugshot of one of UK’s many much-loved Jews, from Robert Winston through Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe to Maureen Lipmann. And surely the G has no stortage of snaps of David Beckham?

    If they were really desperate, they could have stuck Seth Freedman’s ugly clock on it and we could have had some fun with pins and crayons….

  6. No, Beckham is not jewish, one of his grandparents was….it was in the news recently he went to the funeral? and was wearing a yarmulke in the pix

  7. Thanks for this, AKUS, which is yet another insight into the GWV.

    All of which means that this should not have been a surprise to any of us.

    It seems that the reader’s editor (who I gather was appointed to replace Siobhan Butterworth in January this year) thinks that the rest of us are as thick as yer average btl Guardianista when she/he/it says that they couldn’t find a different picture.

    Yes Geary – they could have put a mug shot of Freedman instead. I’d have had a lot of fun with crayons and pins.

  8. pretzelberg

    “David Beckham is Jewish?”

    I love you pretzel. You remind me of my editor.

    He calls himself “half-Jewish” and he’d certainly be Jewish enough for Hitler or Hamas.

  9. I think the responses here are to a large extent more representative of the prejudices of some here – not at the Guardian at all – against Haredim. The first picture may not have a great deal to do with British Jews, but only a prejudiced (even dare I say implicitly antisemitic) eye would regard such a picture – of elegant, time-honoured religious tradition – as “inviting ridicule”. One could equally argue that it invited respect; surely the intention of the photographer is of no little importance in the “meaning” of the picture, if there is one beyond the purely illustrative.

    As for the second picture…it’s Leather Lane market, in the diamond-cutting and dealing district of London (Hatton Garden), which is indeed one area in which one can reasnably expect of a weekday to see many traditionally attired Haredim about their business. While the point that they are not “representative” or “typical” of the British Jewish population is correct, it is true that they ARE identifiably and clearly and unambigiously and proudly Jewish in a way that those who dress in a more “conventional” (in contemporary British terms) are not. So…again I see nothing reasonable to object to. The idea of using an illlustration of a specific Jewish “celebrity” as “representative” is really very much less appropriate surely, both because it is not anonymised/generic, and …well…the number of celebrities (by no means all of whom are Jewish) who live around Golders Green and Hampstead Garden Suburb aside, they are hardly typical of anything other than “the TV class” or “celebrities”, and not really of Jews.

    So, I must say: I think you are not for the first time making a fuss about absolutely nothing.

  10. Well, John, specifically, I have no idea; and in a sense nor do I particularly care. But I find something profoundly – reassuring – not least in an age of rapid change and superficial materialism – that people like these fellows are prepared to hold fast to long-lived certainties and ways (shown most obviously, it is true, in their chosen form of dress – and I know, in the scheme of things, that doesn’t date back that far, really, only a few centuries: but still), and keep their vital, deeply civilised and honorable traditions alive. They look joyous in that picture, not ridiculous. It is contemptible to say that they are being mocked or that such a picture is “offensive”. Long may their traditions and culture and profoundly wise civilisation endure! And conversely may the foolishness and excessive admiration of the temporal of those who criticise them be brought to an end with the victory of greater wisdom and understanding!

  11. Peter A – beg to differ. The picture finally selected was about as representative of British Jews – and I have known quite a few – as Fagin was in “Oliver Twist”.

    The power of those pictures to mislead is quite well shown in the reponses to this article.

    The article was posted by Adam Levick, and the exchanges with the Guardian were carried out by “concerned reader’. Yet it looks as if those scanning the article were so drawn to these powerfully unrepresentative photographs that they believed that I wrote this article as well as the one I did write.

    Interesting example of the way these sorts of misleading photographs can influence readers and why it is so important to oppose the subliminal messages the Guardian tries to convey by using them.

  12. Peter A

    and I know, in the scheme of things, that doesn’t date back that far, really, only a few centuries: but still), and keep their vital, deeply civilised and honorable traditions alive.


    What ‘honorable traditions’ would those be?

  13. The title of that photograpn:


    Next: 2nd-pic2.jpg

    They weren’t trying to present a realistic or general picture of Jews.