This article was first published in PETRIe E-Magazine issue #2.
The job role of a newsreader, as a BBC career advert attests, is to report the news with “flair and authority,” ensuring listeners have a “clear understanding” of the headlines.
Whether this means communicating political information from Parliament, news from local constituencies, traffic updates, weather reports, criminal activity, new architectural developments, or even downright bizarre goings on - they cover it all.
Then, there are the times when they have to reveal, from the comfort of the studio, a terrible and tragic story that will inevitably pull on our emotions. Murder, rape, suicide, drugs overdose, child abduction… there is no telling when these stories will break. In these instances, they must report with the same clarity and conviction as any other news story. And, more often than not, they remain impartial and unmoving.
Devoid of all connection to the words being uttered, quite often, these times when they convey the stories to us with deadpan faces go unnoticed. They do it in such a way that we become almost numb to the reality of the tragedy. We hear what they are saying, but we lack that emotional connection to make us stop what we’re doing.
Yet there are also times when even the strongest, most professional of news readers will crack. I will never forget watching the news when Princess Diana died, all those years ago, and Nik Gowing announced it live on-air for the BBC at the moment he found out. His shock and loss of words was hard to miss, adding further raw human emotion to the tragedy. His own grief became pronounced through the words he read. It is estimated that the broadcast reached 500 million viewers across the globe.
Then there was the emotional scene in Australia as news host Natalie Barr from Sunrise News learnt, while talking about the Sydney terror hostage on-air, that she knew the brother of one of the siege victims, Katrina Dawson. She was unable to stop herself from crying, and the moment was projected around the globe for all to witness. It became a news story in itself, reported by numerous national publications.
As a human race, we are fascinated by these emotive moments – perhaps because they are so rare against all the other times when tragic and horrific information is presented from the auto-cue in an impartial and composed way; the times when it passes us by while we eat our breakfast or snack on lunch, carrying on with our day unaffected.
Jure Kastelic, who lives and works between London and Slovenia, has also recognised these parallels of emotion. His photo series titled “Death Reporters” features news presenters faces, freeze-framed at the exact moment when they have to relay terrible news. The result is profound and moving.
As he explains to me when talking about the inspiration of his work, “This project focuses on communication tactics of mass media. It emphasises the discrepancy between the sensationalistic image of reporters and the upsetting content they are communicating to the world. It is trying to allude to our short attention span and historic memory that is fed by generic, bombastic information.”
Originally though, Kastelic hadn’t been driven by the emotion, or lack of it. Instead, it was the photography technique itself that spurred this project. As he explains, “This project began a few years ago when I started photographing computer screens and TVs. At first, I was interested in the moiré effect that appears like a structural element of the photograph. I was mostly taking photographs of newsreaders on different screens, as I wasn’t expecting anything too exciting to happen aesthetically.”
Initially, this technique and project helped him to develop his skills. “It was a perfect playground for experimenting. I liked the consistency (24/7, the format) and the structure of the surface of the photograph.” However, as Kastelic continued, he became perceptive to the deeper element of what these images were showing.
It was here that he recognised the contradiction, and the value of the emotional response. “After paying attention to what the reporters were actually saying, I started to think about the connection between their expressions and the awful news they were reporting about. It was sort of funny but devastating at the same time, and that intrigued me.”
As he continues, “I was interested in how the established format of news-reading became infested with sensationalism, which appears through over-articulation among other things. That is what made hunting for grimaces almost too easy. The reason behind choosing death as a theme, in mixture with the silly grimaces, is probably because it is the most “inappropriately” fitting.”
Even though the types of content required were almost too readily available for Kastelic, given the subject matter, he still found himself surprised on occasion. “I couldn’t believe how many micro-expressions we miss while watching the news. [pull quote] It is something that made the whole depressing process of following stories of people dying a bit less gloomy, as almost every newscaster would make an expression that is, in this specific context, so unnatural that it’s almost funny. Like a badly-timed joke.”
Amongst such a project, it would seem almost ironic to the series if Kastelic didn’t find himself moved by the emotion - or lack of, on occasion - of the news being reported. “I guess the most emotional story would be the one that was not included in this project at all. The story about a family tragedy was read on a Slovenian TV channel. It was communicated in such a deadpan manner that I just couldn’t find anything to photograph. There were no micro-expressions, no silly over-articulation, just a plain story with the right pace, which made it even more touching and memorable. Kudos to the reporter.”
Words: Grace Carter
Photography: From the series 'Death Reporters' by Jure Kastelic