At a time when hard-core, investigative journalism is in peril, the Sanctuary’s Underground Gallery presents “Media Nodes,” a view behind the curtain, beyond the front page, to the interior landscape of a news industry in transition.
Award-winning photographer Sean Hemmerle, in collaboration with the Columbia Journalism Review, took his camera into newsrooms around the country. “People throw around this word all the time, mostly disparangingly: ‘oh, the media,’ and ‘media spin,” he says. “That made me think: who is the media? And what about the media? I wanted to put a face on these media nodes, the places where news is ‘made.'”
10/16/11 – 12/3/11; Mon, Tue, (closed Wed), Thu, Fri, 11 AM-1 PM; an hour before, during and an hour after events; plus by appointment.
Sean Hemmerle is an award-winning New York based photographer specializing in architectural and urban landscape photography.
His work has been widely exhibited, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York; The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, The Houston Museum of Fine ARt, The Pingyao Photography Festival in Pingyao, China, and many other solo exhibitions. His photography has graced the covers and pages of many magazines including TIME, Metropolis, WIRED, Interior Design, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and The Columbia Journalism Review. A regular contributor to Time, New York, and Metropolis magazines, he has been affiliated with Contact Press Images since 2001.
Hemmerle was born in 1966 in Tempe, Arizona, USA. After serving in the U.S. Army (1984-1988), and earned an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1997. Since 9/11, Hemmerle has turned his eye toward documenting the effects of war in New York, Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2002, he turned his camera’s eye to Media Nodes, in collaboration with the Columbia Journalism Review.
Sean’s grandfather was a newsman, and my father was a cameraman for our local television station. I respect the work done by the people who doggedly pursue a story, check their facts, and continue digging.
Exhibition Notes for “Media Nodes,” by Sean Hemmerle
The “Media Nodes” series, which I began in 2002, was born from my desire to photograph the news media as it was and as it was changing. I wanted to photograph the nodes of production in order to visually articulate the activities and environments of “the media”. At that time it was apparent to me that the news media was in transition. The few bloggers in operation were largely independent and not taken seriously. Magazines with previously stellar reputations for investigative news were sliding toward jingoism, celebrity, and financial instability. Fox News was overtaking CNN in the Neilsen ratings, and Ted Coppel’s numbers were slipping on Nightline. At that moment, it seemed that hard-core, investigative journalism as we had known it was in peril.
I considered each newsroom as a node of production, choosing to photograph them architecturally, industrially, and using long exposures. This approach illustrated the proxemics of each location via traffic flow and spatial arrangements. Without a caption or explanation, viewers can glean the functionality of these spaces through elements such as the placement and type of furniture, levels of lighting, and the divisions of volumes. Each person working in these offices has his or her own function, however, the organization portrayed (whether independent paper or media conglomerate) also has a unique mission, which becomes more discernable after studying its interior spaces.
In 2002, I approached the Columbia Journalism Review, asking if they would collaborate on this project and they agreed. The first organization to say “yes” to our requests was the New York Post. Next, having shot for Time, I next contacted colleagues there inquiring about whether I could photograph their facilities. All of the people I once knew there have since moved on. In the past decade, there has been unprecedented turnover and evolution of the “Fourth Estate”. Journalism has been retooled and remains vital, but in new forums like Al Jazeera, Politico, Propublica, Democracy Now, and a myriad of independent bloggers. This leaner, more agile media is reporting on events happening every moment of every day.
I set out to photograph the news business much like Eugéne Atget photographed Paris at the dawn of the twentieth century to preserve it in a visual medium for future generations. While the monolithic Tiffany Network of Edward R. Murrow’s day has yielded to a multi-ethnic chorus of decentralized contributors, the decisions through which stories are prioritized and distributed is still a process practiced regularly in newsrooms across the nation. The character of the resulting news product varies from node to node, evolving into patterns of bias unique to each institution. Each newsroom’s physical space and its materials of construction indicate that organization’s personality. The eight-year project that is Media Nodes, consequently, becomes a view behind the curtain, beyond the front page, to the interior landscape of an industry in transition. The exact placement of each desk tells the story of that evolution.