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Interview: Will Steacy on Deadline Volume 2

Interview Will Steacy on Deadline Volume 2 photo-eye Bookstore Manager Christopher J Johnson speaks to Will Steacy about Deadline: Volume 2.

Deadline Volume 2By Will Steacyb.frank books, 2016.
Deadline: Volumes 1 and 2 is the culmination of 7 years of work for photographer Will Steacy, five of those years spent in intensive documentation of the newsroom and printing facilities of The Philadelphia Inquirer as the paper was in the midst of a serious downturn. This was by no means an isolated case — newspapers nation-wide have seen a sharp decline in circulation and ad revenue resulting in significant lay-offs and downsizing — but Steacy was uniquely position to tell this story. Blake Andrews describes Steacy in his review of Deadline: Volume 1: “Enter Will Steacy, photographer by trade, journalist by heritage. His father was a newsman (an editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer), along with his grandfather, as was his great-grandfather and so on, back to great great-great-grandfather Hyram Young, proud founder of a daily paper in 1876. Steacy escaped the cycle, sort of, pursuing a profession outside of newspapers, but it remained in his blood.” Given unrestricted access, Steacy meticulously photographed The Philadelphia Inquirer as it contended with a shifting industry making considerable changes itself, including layoffs (Steacy’s father, an editor with the Inquirer for 29 years, among them) and a move from their 526,000 square foot offices in the iconic Tower of Truth to a single floor of an office building.

Deadline: Volumes 1 and 2By Will Steacyb.frank books, 2016.

What Steacy amassed is a massive story, one that he chose to tell in two distinct parts. Deadline: Volume 1 took the form of a newspaper, and while it features Steacy’s photography, it most notably contains 70 essays about the rise and fall of the newspaper industry, taking an in-depth look at the complexities of the issues. Deadline: Volume 2, on the other hand, is a more traditional photobook. Captions help to give context to the images, but Steacy relies on photographic storytelling, incorporating photographs of the offices of the Inquirer with portraits of its reporters, images of ephemera, reproductions of textual documents and archival photographs, ultimately telling a rich and nuanced story that resonates nationally yet is realized on a personal level.

photo-eye Bookstore manager Christopher J Johnson took sometime to talk with Steacy about Deadline: Volume 2 and the completion of the long-term project.

Deadline: Volume 2By Will Steacyb.frank books, 2016.
Christopher J Johnson:     Aside from the format, the difference to me immediately between Deadline Volume 1 and Deadline Volume 2 is that Volume 2 is less text heavy. On top of that, the majority of the text is presented in a photographic form, usually including documents and handwritten notes, and I wondered if this was a response to feedback from Volume 1. I ask that as someone who loves to read but constantly hears in interviews about photobooks that people disengage with a book if it has too much text — this specifically coming from a photobook and artbook audience.

Will Steacy:     Yeah, I think that’s also a concern for people perhaps such as yourself and myself who love to read and value the written word, but I think in general as a society we don’t read too much. I think on average American reads 19 minutes a day. In terms of photography, I think the attachment and relationship between text and the image, which in my eyes are two incredibly similar mediums, has become detached and separated in recent years with the evolution of the image online and in turn all of our visual vocabularies with the influx and oversaturation and wealth of imagery available a swipe or a click away. We have lost our patience and ability for serious contemplation and serious looking. A lot of that so-called serious contemplation involves looking at a picture as well as reading the words that say what the picture can’t say, the images saying what the words can’t say. For me a blend of the two are how I work and operate. With the newspaper, [Volume 1], one of my goals was to provide a understanding much deeper than any image can do, which is where it involves explaining the history of something, for instance, the history of The Inquirer, the history of the newspaper industry etc. The newspaper was the appetizer, so to speak, to get the palate wet, and the book is the entrĂ©e, the main course. It means that I can have a visual dialogue in which having read or looked at the newspaper, people have an understanding that can then inform the conversation that’s happening with the book. Hopefully that can be an elevated conversation in which a visual dialogue between each image on the page — whether it’s one or five or whatever — all make sense. In many ways it’s several conversations all occurring at the same time.

CJJ:     So they’re parallel texts, would you say?

WS:     Yes, totally.

CJJ:     Do you see the series continuing or being complete with this second volume?

WS:     It is completed. It took me long enough, but this is it and it feels great to stamp the period on what has been a 7-year long endeavor — a 7-year long sentence.

Deadline: Volume 2By Will Steacyb.frank books, 2016.

CJJ:     Do you see both books all as one project?

WS:     For me I had to do both. The story in the book for me is — I don’t want this to sound cheesy or silly or misunderstood — I was able to dive into and exploit what I love and what I feel are the greatest strengthens and gifts of the photograph and be able to make poetry out of the singular image. And that to me is what I did in [Volume 2]. I took a lot of pleasure and enjoyment in telling this story in a visual language in the book form, which from the onset of the project was the end goal. With the newspaper, it was also incredibly important to me to provide background material so to speak, and provide and explanation, just as I did in the previous book, Down These Mean Streets, providing the story in great detail of how we got to where we are. For conversational purposes, a photograph represents a 30th of a second of time, and when trying to tell a 30, 50, 100 year story, a 30th of a second is not the greatest choice of mediums to do that. But when you do that in words this allows me to tell the story in the detail, with the richness that I feel is necessary. It wouldn’t be surprising to me to know that 90% of the people who have a copy of the Deadline newspaper didn’t read all 70 of those essays — maybe they did, I don’t know. But if they read half of them I think they’d have a solid understanding of the history. That’s just the way I work — I’m a nerd and I care about the details. Perhaps it’s a bit overkill or too much but I feel I wouldn’t be giving my reader everything that they deserve to know if I didn’t tell them the whole story. That would be journalist malpractice, and that’s a sin. In telling this story there were and are two formats to doing that. With the book it was important to me to convey the visual poetry and to allow the love song to my father and to my family — the highs and low notes of a long song — allow it all to play out. It’s sort of the arty-farty story version of telling the story.

Deadline: Volume 2By Will Steacyb.frank books, 2016.

Deadline: Volume 2By Will Steacyb.frank books, 2016.

In the Gene Roberts introduction to the book, he also told the story from the perspective of someone who to me matters a great deal. Gene Roberts was the editor of The Inquirer for many many years, and most would say is responsible for turning The Inquirer into one of the greatest newspapers in American from being one of the worst. In his years there won the paper 18 Pulitzers and the world in which he operated, investing in the newsroom, being able to hire young new ambitious reporters, partnering them up with veteran experienced editors etc., proved to be a success story. It was a journalism environment that certainly no longer exists today and having the funds and resources to have reporters work on a story for an entire year — to tell that story in a seven part multi-page — every day, just page after page of words, 30k words story every day for 7, 9 days — is something that in todays culture of reading 19 minutes a day, you don’t have the audience for anymore. In his introduction he describes being in meetings with the presidents and CEOs of these huge publicly owned media chains and how the conversations in the meetings shifted over time. He tells the backstory business-wise and explains the economics behind it, and again, being an economics nerd, this is something that’s very very important. It all comes down to the numbers and the moneyed. Follow the money. That one essay, introduction, piece of text, is a perfect supplement to the pictures.

Deadline: Volume 2By Will Steacyb.frank books, 2016.
CJJ:     Do you feel a greater response from people in the newspaper industry with this work?

WS:     Yeah totally, totally. Over the years I’ve received a general outpouring of gratitude and really positive responses from people. Totally complete strangers who came across the work somehow and emailed me telling me their story. So many people have the same story but with a different newspaper, different newsroom. In many ways I made this for my father, but the other people whose opinions and feedback and perspectives on this I care the most about are the people whose lives and stories are depicted in these pictures. That, to me, was also the guiding principle in making the newspaper, having this project be a collaboration and making sure that the people whose lives and careers were spent in the newsroom, that their voices were heard. It had to be done, in my eyes, having their voices and their stories represented alongside these pictures, to add another element in telling this complex, long, ongoing story.

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