The technological leap started in 1925 with the commercial production of the first compact 35mm Leica camera, which was small enough to carry around. A few years later came the rangefinder, interchangeable lenses, shutter controls, and flash bulbs. People could move around and take photos on the spot anywhere they had enough light.
This led to the rise of a new style of magazine and newspaper that used photography more than text to tell stories. The pioneer was Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung (Germany), with other publications including Vu (France), Life (US), Picture Post (UK) and newspapers such as The Daily Mirror (UK) and The New York Daily News (US).
From nowhere, the photojournalist was born.
Look back at the American War in Vietnam, and some of the most poignant documentation comes from the series of photos published in the magazine Life. This kind of work was the bread and butter of famous photographers of the era including Horst Faas, Nick Ut, Larry Burrows, Catherine Leroy and Tim Page. These photojournalists were able to produce a sense of place, time and atmosphere that other types of correspondents or film-makers were unable to capture.
Yet by the 1970s, many photo-magazines were struggling to compete with other media for advertising revenue. Unable to maintain their large circulations and sustain their high costs, they ceased publication.
A New Era?
With its ability to reduce costs, digital cameras have changed all this, as has the increasing need for photographers to double up as writers, and writers to double up as photographers.
This is what we try to do in Word — publish articles that combine words with strong photography. Some pieces are told by one person. Others are recounted by two. Together they tell stories that provide a depth unable to be found by one medium alone.
The following photo documentaries are a testament to this, to all those Vietnam-based stories out there that make this magazine tick. They are also a testament to the work of all those people in the past — camera makers, publishers and photojournalists — who have brought the visual, static image version of telling a story to where it is today.