About Reading the Pictures

Reading the Pictures is a non-profit organization dedicated to visual and media literacy through the analysis of news photography and cultural images.

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Michael Shaw and Pete Souza on stage at the Photoville photo festival in Brooklyn, May 29, 2023. After presenting Soza with several pictures he took of Obama lecturing Putin, Shaw asked the White House photographer what that was about. After the chuckles died down, Pete drew a roar from the crowd with the comeback: "Well, that's how you talk to the Russians!"

Welcome, I'm Michael Shaw, publisher of Reading the Pictures. Whether you've been following RTP and me forever or just discovered us, here is a refresher on the mission, why you should read and follow us, and what we offer.

Who We Are

Reading the Pictures is a non-profit organization dedicated to visual and media literacy through the analysis of news photography and cultural images. We examine news and media images for meaning, trends, context, and fairness to impart that appreciation to media consumers and professionals. We are concerned with the visual framing of major social issues and how images function and are affected in an age of unrelenting persuasion, promotion, and variable truth.

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"Milking 9/11"

Reading the Pictures originated in 2001 as a daily political cartoon on a lunch bag called BagNews to engage high school kids in the news and civics. In 2003, with the advent of the online blogosphere, I renamed the site BagNewsNotes and repurposed it to focus on in-depth analysis of news photography. In confirmation of that mission, we took on our current name in 2015.

Some History

Our three-person team at the DNC in Denver, 2008. Top L-R: DNC Guest producer Al Shaw with Michael Shaw. The blogger's press area. Al in the pressbox at Mile High Stadium on the final night. Bottom L-R: RTP photographer Alan Chin captures Obama swagger as nominee makes surprise convention appearance at Pepsi Center after Biden VP acceptance speech. Chin in action on the field the afternoon of Obama's acceptance speech.

RTP has been recognized as a Webby finalist for "Best Political Blog" and a top 20 photo blog by LIFE. We received the Gilliard Grant of Merit for Excellence in Journalism and News Blogging at the first NetRoots Nation, and we were part of the first wave of bloggers awarded media credentials at the 2008 Democratic Convention. We were a Picture of the Year International (POYi) Multimedia Award winner and received the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund's Howard Chapnick Grant for photographic research and leadership.

An image from our video "Michael Kamber | Military Censorship," winner of a POYi Award of Excellence. The video, produced by Sandra Roa, features an interview with Kamber, a contract war photographer for the New York Times, and a focused look at the issue of military censorship, including photos he strongly felt needed to be seen. This photo captures the evacuation of a wounded Marine. The military strongly resisted any depiction of injured American soldiers. See the video here.

The Mission

Our basic premise is that people (even visual professionals) don't spend enough time discussing the information and meaning contained in the elements and composition of individual pictures. We are concerned with photography and power, whoever wields it politically, socially, or economically. We are unapologetic in our focus on the political framing of race, gender, class, and other cultural stereotypes and how those issues are filtered by organizations and institutions with either an ideological, marketing, or financial bent. We are also interested in photographs as a window and sometimes a magnifying glass on human behavior and personality. Finally, with the deluge of online imagery and the instability of the news media, people have increasingly looked to us as curators to ID those photos with the most to say.

What We Offer

If you sign up, you can look forward to:

• Great photo curation.

• Short takes on what I'm looking at, including select images reflecting political, cultural, and visual trends.

• The incredibly talented Liliana Michelena produced and co-edited our fantastic Chatting the Pictures videos with Cara Finnegan and me.

• Around once a month, a more extended essay from me complimented by occasional guest analysis from friends and colleagues.

More takes on cultural images, including magazine and book covers.

And, conversation with you! Right here. Just like we used to.

Subscription Policy and How You Can Help

We will not be soliciting paid subscriptions or creating tiers of content, at least for the immediate future.

If you value our work and have the means to make a tax-deductible donation on a monthly or yearly basis, we hope you will do so via the subscription link. Otherwise, you can contribute by spreading the word. We know that what we are doing remains unique and vital for visual democracy and the health of the media culture. So, beyond being part of our comment community, you can pay us back by circulating our work and encouraging others to subscribe.

Who's Who

Michael Shaw is an analyst of news photography and visual journalism, a frequent lecturer and writer on visual politics, photojournalism, and media literacy, and the founder and publisher of Reading the Pictures. He is also a Clinical Psychologist and organizational consultant in private practice. His clinical training involves the analysis of character styles, and his research has dealt with the creative process, visual thinking, and how metaphors can create psychological insight.

Cara Finnegan is a writer, teacher, and historian of photography. Her books and essays explore photography's role as a public life tool. A Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois, Finnegan's ideas about photography have been featured in a variety of publications in the fields of Communication and U.S. History, as well as in popular media outlets such as the New York Times, BBC, Vogue Italia, Vox, and Reuters. Cara and Liliana

Liliana Michelena is a reporter, multimedia producer, and former professional soccer player from Lima, Peru. She was a correspondent at the 2016 Rio Olympics for El Comercio and later covered the aftermath for The Associated Press. The New York Times, The Guardian, and Spain's El Pais have also published her work. Liliana graduated from Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru in 2013 and UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism in 2018.

Sign Up and Spread the Word

If you're already subscribed, there's nothing else you have to do. If you're not, and you want to recommend us or see more content, visit ReadingthePictures.media.

We hope you will enjoy us, learn from us, and converse with us.

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The non-profit Reading the Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photography and media images.


Publisher of Reading the Pictures.