Last weekend, I took my first trip to the Newseum in Washington, DC. The Newseum is a museum dedicated to the first amendment and journalism of all kinds; print, video, satire, etc. One thing that struck me that I wasn’t expecting, and the reason I wanted to write this post, is the emphasis placed on photojournalism and great photography. Occasionally I like to step out from behind the camera and seek out ideas and inspiration. If you feel the same way let me point out three reasons why you should visit the Newseum.
Pictures of the Year: You start your tour on the concourse level of the Newseum. One of the first things you see is a display of 71 outstanding pictures. They are displayed in categories showing military photography, natural disasters, sports, wildlife, and celebrities. There is a great picture of Steve Jobs, of people in Pakistan rushing a helicopter that’s bringing in food and medicine, of the Icelandic volcano erupting, and more. I’m not sure where these photos are ordinarily displayed, but I don’t think I’d seen a single one before. This was the highlight of the tour for me. This display only runs through October 31, 2011 so get there soon.
Power of the Image Documentary: Once you finish on the Concourse level you take an elevator to the sixth floor and start working your way down. On the fifth floor there are a series of nooks with seating for twenty or so people that play different documentaries. In one of these alcoves I found a 7-minute documentary about the history of photojournalism and it’s impact on the news industry. You get to see some iconic images (e.g., the Hindenburg explosion), see the story behind them, and hear how they changed the nature of journalism.
Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographs: Once you work your way back down to the first floor make sure you stop in and view the Pulitzer Prize Gallery. In addition to outstanding photos such as that iconic image of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima and an aerial photograph of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, there is a 20-minute documentary with interviews of the photographers where they explain what was going through their mind as they took the pictures that would make them famous. Since a lot of the images we consider Pulitzer Prize-worthy come out of awful situations such as famine and war it is heart wrenching to hear the photographers talk about how they are still haunted by the experience. It is still very inspirational.
Those were the photographic highlights of the trip. There are, of course, many other reasons to visit the Newseum including one of the largest displayed sections of the Berlin Wall, a piece of the World Trade Center recovered after 9/11, and countless displays showing classic news reports and paper clippings. There is also a lot for kids including interactive displays and a make-your-own news report area. That said, you should be aware that the Newseum is not part of the federal (i.e., Smithsonian) museum system so you’ll definitely feel the impact on your travel budget. It costs $22 for adults. I spent about 3 hours in the Newseum and felt like I got my money’s worth.
If you go, I would love to hear your impression of it. Please leave comments below. I plan on writing more of these sorts of articles so your feedback is always appreciated. My next trip will be to a photographic discussion at National Geographic HQ here in DC.