Nonfiction Illustrated 2016 3

The next of our categories involves onsite research and drawing, and a journalistic sense for what "the story" might be in a particular place, or at an event. 

Category 3: Perspectival Reportage

Those of you who were around last semester know that I curated a show early this year at the Kemper Museum, called Parallel Modes: Illustrated Visual Journalism and American Photography, 1955-1980. That show included street photography as well as the work of several practitioners of the "visual essay."

From my essay, which helps to contextualize the idea of reportage: 

"Some magazines sought to capture the shifting zeitgeist in an evolving marketplace. Influential art directors like Richard Gangel at Sports Illustrated argued that illustrators could assist in that effort, by offering singular perspectives on events.

New illustrator-correspondents were recruited to capture the atmospherics of contemporary social life, commerce and sport. They worked for innovative periodicals like SI, Esquire, Fortune, and Look. These magazines published first-person nonfiction writing with a strong point of view, essays which relied on the techniques of fiction writing–an approach later called “the New Journalism.” The break with, and hostility toward, then-prevailing illustration practices is difficult to overstate. Gangel emphasized what he would not publish:

Anything deriving from that exhausted old tradition in which the artist, as a mere interpreter of somebody's script, painted gorgeous, dreamy works for ladies' love stories—each creampuff page setting art backward a baby step. [The footnote: As quoted in “Letter from the Publisher,” Sports Illustrated, February 3, 1964. Gangel’s harsh judgment categorically values reportage over fiction illustration, and–implicitly–male audiences over female ones.]

Leading magazines commissioned visual essays, or suites of images by a single illustrator based on topical first-person reporting. Illustrators like Robert Weaver and R. A. Parker became closely associated with the magazine visual essay: arguably, the illustrators’ version of the New Journalism. As a “Letter from the Publisher” in Sports Illustrated declared in 1963: 

[We hold]..that the artist-reporter can do as much as the word-man or the cameraman to capture the shine and movement of sport. He brings his private and opinionated eye to the event; when he does his job well he catches truth in a new way. [Ibid.]"

I am supplying a few examples from that show, as well as Leslie Ding's cover illustration for Fox in the Field No. 1, a publication that grew out of the Visual Journalism and Reportage Drawing course I taught last spring (and ran concurrently with the exhibition). I will get a copy of Fox No. 1 to the Art and Architecture Library, for your reference. It provides excellent examples of strong visuals tethered to good writing! 


These projects come into being in fairly organic ways. You can't spec the pictures in advance, and you can't write the copy until you've done some reporting. If you are comfortable with or interested in working onsite, this is a viable option for you. I would also say that the mentality for this work is different. It's more experiential, and less about being in production mode. You are constantly with your subject, and it is forming and reforming as you work your way through it. A proposal for a visual essay project would identity a subject, cite preliminary contacts, and speculate on potential stories. 

Okay, that should get you started. I will try to get the last two categories and some summarizing thoughts up in the next 72 hours. 

Austin Briggs Highway Billboards with Cotton Pickers, 1965. Oil pastel and oil paint on board, Published in “The Fast-changing South,” written by George B. Leonard, Look, November 16, 1965. Walt Reed Illustration Archive, Modern Graphic HIstory Library, Washington University. 

Robert Weaver, Drawing from Spring Training Sketchbook, 1962. Research for “Spring Training: Fresh Starts and Old Hopes,” Sports Illustrated, March 5, 1962. Robert Weaver Collection, MGHL.

Al Parker, Girl on Boat, Monaco Grand Prix, Sports Illustrated, May 11, 1964. This was not in the show, but the crazy cut up photo collage that Parker used to invent it almost was. The space is totally made up.  

Robert Andrew Parker, The Private Strategy of Bethlehem Steel, cover illustration Fortune Magazine, April 1962. A different Parker than the one directly above, whose work is also in the Modern Graphic History Library. 

Cliff Condak. Tom Hawkins Driving. Paint, pastel and graphite. Made for (but unpublished in) “Big Men on the Move,” Sports Illustrated, October 28, 1963. MGHL. 

Joel Meyerowitz, New Mexico. 1972. Meyerowitz was inspired by Robert Frank's street work, and went on to make his own. He was a pioneer of color photography in art practice, when people (bizarrely, to think of it now) were snooty about it. 

Leslie Ding, Cooking Clinic, cover illustration, Fox in the Field No. 1, published by the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts.