In section II under the title CARE of the German Press Code there is a definition of the symbolic photograph (German - Symbolfoto). The definition brings illustration/photograph in relation to documentarism and puts attention to the possibility of interchangeability between the two by the casual reader, enumerating three basic reasons for the need of marking the symbolic photo. Following guidelines are mentioned: similar subject at a different time, or a different subject at the same time, reconstructed scenes, artificially visualised events to accompany, photomontages or other changes.

Having moved to Austria, I started collecting free daily newspapers one can find daily in Vienna. The collection is based on the photographs in Heute and Österreich. I was interested in the photos that contain graphic additions in order to make the message more clear and accurate to the reader, without needing to actually consult the accompanying text. The red circle is a frame within a frame of the photo, pointing up (clearly) to details on the photograph relevant to the message.

The Austrian Press Code does not mention the term Symbolfoto, but Montage and Editing instead. In practice the term Symbolfoto is mentioned in relation to the diet policy, depicting the (symbolic) quality of the product, even though there is a clear parallel with the German Press Code.

Such an insisting on commitment to truthful and correct reproduction points out to the awareness of impreciseness and arbitrariness of not only a photo marked as symbolic, but also of documentary style of photography. Does a regulation of freedom, in form of voluntary self-limitation based on the Code of Ethics actually prevent indeterminacy and inaccuracy in an sufficient manner? Is conscientiousness enough for an  inadmissible editorial contribution? Is any photography a symbolic photo?

Österreich submitted to the arbitration of the Press Council only just in 2017.


Symbolfoto. 2014/2015. Photography (newspapers)