Alec Soth's Archived Blog

August 2, 2007

two-exclamation-point limit

Filed under: media — alecsothblog @ 2:19 pm

I was on a walk with my one year old when a passerby told me about the Mississippi River bridge collapse. First thought: call my wife. Second thought: should I go make pictures? TV helicopters were already hovering, news photographers were on the scene and hundreds of citizens were snapping away with cellphone cameras. What could I add? First thought: I could make myself look like a Serious Photographer. Second thought: I could make money for Magnum.

I didn’t take pictures. But Zuma Press was on the scene. In an excellent blog post, PDN describes their press release:

When a news story breaks somewhere where cameras are present, we can usually anticipate the emailed press release we’ll receive a few hours later from Zuma Press, announcing that they have photos of the event—often through a licensing deal the agency signed with the newspaper closest to the scene. Even if the announcements reach us hours after the photos have been moved, they’re written in a tone of salivating excitement. And sometimes that’s, well, unseemly.

Here’s their announcement about yesterday’s tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Note the punctuation:

Breaking News!

EXCLUSIVE IMAGE! Freeway bridge collapses into Mississippi River during rush hour in Minneapolis, with at least six people are dead, dozens more are injured, some critically. The Interstate 35 bridge, under repair between St. Paul and Minneapolis, breaks into several huge sections and falls into the water with vehicles. An estimated 50 vehicles plunged into the water and onto the land below.RESTRICTIONS: USA Tabloid RIGHTS OUT! Mags and TV Call 949.481.3747 For Price !!

A total of five exclamation points. People died, many are injured. Doesn’t decorum demand a two-exclamation-point limit?


  1. Zuma’s front page:

    Comment by Alec Soth — August 2, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

  2. But then I guess the exclamation points are what made Weegee so great:

    “I Cried When I Took This Picture,” Ms. Henrietta Torres and Her Daughter Ada watch as Another Daughter her Son Die in Fire”
    December 15, 1939 by Weegee

    Comment by Alec Soth — August 2, 2007 @ 3:09 pm

  3. Unfortunately, there is no sense of decorum for tragedies such as these. Not with Zuma on the scene, and a digital camera in every pocket.
    I have a great view of lower Manhattan from my apartment, but just couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of the Twin Towers on 9/11. People were dying, and you didn’t need a camera to see that. I still cannot understand the need of so many people to record that event, or the tragedy in Minneapolis, unless you were working as a photojournalist. Not taking pictures is sometimes the human response.

    Comment by micheal — August 2, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  4. And so, did you or did you not call your wife? 🙂

    Comment by Tomé — August 2, 2007 @ 3:18 pm

  5. A newspaper editor once advised that you get to use an exclamation point once in a headline in your entire career. Choose wisely.

    I guess these folks missed that advice. I mean missed it! Entirely! Damn! I can’t stop! Help!

    Comment by jd — August 2, 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  6. so true

    Comment by robert — August 2, 2007 @ 3:41 pm

  7. – Seems like the only decorum to be found these days is behind closed doors.
    – Will this be an opportunity for someone to shoot a Katrina-esque memorial book?

    It was eerie driving home from work in Mpls today. The normal commercial air traffic was replaced by a few fighter jets making big circles and a helicopter here and there on a crystal clear blue background.

    Comment by Chuck — August 2, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  8. So would you be setting up a 4×5 camera amidst a legion of people running with mobile phones and point and shoots? Somehow all those exclamation points surrounding a tragedy remind me of Terry Pratchett…

    Comment by Joni Karanka — August 2, 2007 @ 5:43 pm

  9. Chuck, I agree, it was quite eerie driving home from work in Minneapolis today. Even driving to work this morning and out during lunch today. Quiet, calm…unsettling.

    P.S. I’m already hearing about a benefit concert/event/gala…of course there will be a book to follow.

    Comment by Ashley — August 2, 2007 @ 6:51 pm

  10. Ashley,


    Comment by Chuck — August 2, 2007 @ 7:15 pm

  11. I thought the Polidori book was quite moving and not particularly exploitative.

    Comment by Paul McEvoy — August 2, 2007 @ 9:14 pm

  12. I think you’re on to something, Chuck. But first the entire area needs to be completely vacated by all living things.

    Comment by Ashley — August 2, 2007 @ 9:14 pm

  13. […] Later this afternoon I came across this entry on Alec’s blog about Zuma Press. In a press release Zuma announces, in a not so subtle way, that they have pictures from the tragedy for sell. […]

    Pingback by Waitin’ On a Moment - by Tim Gruber » From bridge to bridge. — August 2, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

  14. I’m glad to hear that you and your fam are all ok.

    Comment by Zoe Strauss — August 2, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  15. And, I am a big fan of the exclamation point in casual writing, despite it’s plebeian reputation in the world of punctuation. However, there’s no place for exclamation points in a press release, or in journalism, unless it’s a story about Celebration!, FL.

    Comment by Zoe Strauss — August 2, 2007 @ 9:54 pm


    Actually, I agree that the digital age requires heavy punctuation, CAPS, and, gasp, emoticons 🙂

    It is hard to communicate emotion online without some of these tools. But, as you say, journalism is a different beast. Some restraint is required.

    Comment by Alec Soth — August 2, 2007 @ 10:00 pm

  17. Alec,

    Glad to hear you and yours are okay. Its always sad to see the media outlets dive in like vultures when a major tragic event occurs, especially common when there’s a slow news cycle.
    Glad you didn’t shoot!

    Comment by John — August 2, 2007 @ 10:43 pm

  18. Someone, a teacher of mine I think, once told me that you should use no more than two exclamation points on a page, that one was preferable, and even then, that was probably too many.

    Language and its use changes, which is important and long may it continue. But we can become immune to the power of simple things (like exclamation points) when they get overused. Then again, my wife keeps telling me I will make a great curmudgeon when I get older.

    As to visual exclamation points like Weegee, well that’s different, they are more like well crafted press releases of the human condition.

    Comment by David Boyce — August 2, 2007 @ 11:36 pm

  19. “P.S. I’m already hearing about a benefit concert/event/gala…of course there will be a book to follow.”

    Please, no. The compassion industry has no shame.

    Comment by Robert — August 3, 2007 @ 1:24 am

  20. Glad to hear you are OK Alec, and sad for the people who had loss. I think you did the right thing not to photograph the scene. what would be the point? as you said there were already hundreds doing that. Your work is on another level Alec, There is time in the weeks and months to come that your specfic, gentler skills as a photographer may be needed to enable people to reflect. My thoughts from the Uk go out.

    Comment by mark page — August 3, 2007 @ 3:05 am

  21. ‘First thought: I could make myself look like a Serious Photographer. Second thought: I could make money for Magnum.’ Isn’t that just as crass as an over zealous use of exclamation marks?

    Comment by Ben — August 3, 2007 @ 3:37 am

  22. i think you should take photos , Alec, you are a magnum photographer , we need serious photographers, not only news ,deadline photographers more worry about to sell their pictures quickly,all of then with the same wideangles lens, fill flash, etc. I remember the Larry Towell´s photos of 11/9 in New york , no people jumping from the windows, no blood, but very compasive photos . You know , is only an opinion , not a dogma , not the truth.

    Comment by jesus — August 3, 2007 @ 3:47 am

  23. ‘I am a very bad journalist, very, very bad. I’ll give you an example. I was with Beriosova, taking photographs of her for Queen, and one evening someone said “Somebody just came out from Russia and we’ll see he tonight.” It was Nureyev and I spent the whole night with them and I never had the idea of taking a snapshot. It never came into my head. Sometimes it is more important to talk and listen, you see. Photography is not that important for me. It was the same for Capa and Chim.’

    Cartier Bresson, in “Magnum. Fifty Years at the Front Line of History” by Russell Miller

    Comment by Federico — August 3, 2007 @ 7:10 am

  24. Take photos…There’s no need to publish or post them if you think you’ve crossed the line. Editing is when one’s motives will become clear…

    Comment by matt — August 3, 2007 @ 10:42 am

  25. Great post. My mom used to be a TV reporter, but eventually she just couldn’t stand asking people, “So, how did it feel when your entire family was gunned down befote your eyes?” She switched to covering sports.

    Comment by Lisa Hunter — August 3, 2007 @ 2:15 pm

  26. Not taking a picture is often as important as taking one. I read that you work in large format, since it takes time to set up and prepare the shot, how can one do it in front of a tragedy makes you wonder.

    Comment by Francois Gaboury — August 5, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

  27. I was thinking about this post last night and how I would react and I have no idea what is right or what I would have done. I mean on one hand I think of 9-11 in New York, my home town would I have run downtown to go shoot images? Would I have just stayed where I was and mourned? What if Joel Meyerowitz had stayed home that month and not documented the smoldering towers like he did? Wouldn’t that have been a loss for history? I think one of photography’s great functions is to document these events and while I it is your right to avoid spot news like this event I wonder what perspective we would gain from having someone shooting who is as skilled as yourself pointing some big film and telling us to LOOK, no exclamation points necessary.

    btw, did you use that bridge much?

    Comment by Harlan Erskine — August 9, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

  28. If you use more than one exclamation point, you are required to use exponentially more than you need.

    I’m excited!

    Get out of the building before it collapses!!!

    Mags and TV Call 949.481.3747 For Price !!!!!!11!!!!!!1!!!!!!!!!!!!11111eleven!!!111111

    You see, suddenly, my excitement has translated into an uncontrollable palsy — it has completely rid me of decorum to the point where even capitalization has gone haywire. I’m elevens about selling you photographs.

    Comment by Jesse Mullan — August 17, 2007 @ 12:38 am

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