Books: a visual record of a year on planet Earth

Reuters has produced a stunning volume of images by its photojournalists around the world. Maryann Bird pages through Reuters: Our World Now and finds a range of pictures that not only document events, but engage with the big issues.

Reuters: Our World Now

Thames & Hudson, 2008

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the Reuters news agency has presented 361,000 vivid and dramatic words in its book Our World Now. The volume documents the year 2007 in 361 stunning photographs chosen from the 1,500 a day – over half a million a year – submitted by Reuters photojournalists around the world.

In documenting a year on planet Earth, the photographers capture the world in its myriad facets: war, disaster and misery, as well as fun, fashion and celebrity. The book is the first in a series designed to present a year-on-year visual record of our times – and it succeeds very well.

How to approach the volume is up to the reader – or more accurately in this particular case – the viewer. The book is not arranged by subject or by geographical region, and no general index is provided. Its editors have opted to arrange the photos chronologically and in three-month quarters of the year. Such an arrangement is in keeping with the concept of telling the world’s story over the course of 12 months, while also providing continual surprises — whether the book is approached front to back or by dipping in anywhere and skipping around its pages.

Some images are familiar — the iconic polar bear cub Knut at Berlin’s zoo, for instance — while others are less so (a Kashmiri Indian boy swimming in a pond of what looks like pea soup). All, however, reflect elements of life on earth at a specific moment in time – a moment when a talented – and often lucky — news photographer was present, camera at the ready.

As the book’s introduction says: “As the demand for in-the-moment news is met by broadcast and online media, the role of the printed press has shifted. Increasingly, it falls to newspapers and magazines to provide commentary and perspective on the unceasing flow of reporting. There has been a corresponding shift in news photography. While continuing to document events, photographers are also engaging with the big issues – the future of the planet, relations between the West and the rest of the world, human migration, the resurgence of faith.”

Our World Now features numerous photos capturing news developments, trends and ordinary life in China, as well as climate change and other environment-related events. In images reflecting the world today, we see fires and floods, drought and pollution, devastation and development, hope and despair, life and death — images to which each reader will respond in his or her own way.

Now, say the book’s editors, it is “ever more the individual image that must encapsulate the essence” of a news story. Few publications devote space these days to photojournalistic sequences spread over several pages. “News photography has come to encompass a vast spectrum of images that are in one way or another symbolic of our times – images that capture the atmosphere and go to the heart of the matter.”

What more can anyone ask of photography, or of a book illustrating a year in the unique life of our planet?


Copyright © Reuters 2008 and posted on chinadialogue with the permission of Reuters and publishers Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Maryann Bird is associate editor of chinadialogue