Reportage illustration received some much deserved and often overlooked attention last month with author DB Dowd’s The New York Times op-ed piece on the late reportage illustrator Robert Weaver. Robert Weaver is considered one of the illustrators at the forefront of reportage illustration in the 50’s and 60’s. A slide show of the work discussed can also be found on the Times website.
More importantly than the actual work is the fact that reportage is being talked about in terms of its contribution to illustration and communication. I originally found the reference to the Times piece on Drawn where there was some discussion to the invention of visual journalism. The problem with looking at art history is that everything gets a new name and package every so many years, alluding to the idea that the notion of what someone does is new and has therefore never before been done. Reportage, visual journalism, journalistic illustration, Illustration as Visual Essay, En plein airâ€”no matter the name it is given the idea is always the same, drawing and painting from life. Some of the greatest illustrators have made their marks by starting from the sourceâ€”life as it happens. Artists such as HonorÃ© Daumier, Frank Brangwyn, Feliks Topolski, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, John Singer Sargent and many others all worked from life. As each decade and century passes a new name, and slight modification, is given to the practice.
The idea of reportage has long been a practice of artists and illustrators who find in the act of drawing from life a first hand and unfiltered view of an event. The ability to then edit and direct what the viewer sees on the page, taken from the moment of creation, lies in the hands of the trained and well versed artist, bringing to that moment all of their experiences and understandings. Weaver took his journalistic application to the fields of spring training in 1962 for Sports Illustrated the same way Topolski covered television for CBS in 1957. The value of the artists portrayal of a subject is as vital to our interpretation of our culture and society as any writer, politician or icon of mainstream life.