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La circulation de l'affaire dans le temps et dans l'espace

The face of the journal: Photojournalism and l’affaire Lindbergh

Will Straw

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1On the front pages of two periodicals, published in different countries, we find a striking example of the international circulation of images employed to cover the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh, Jr. The first of these front pages is that of a conventional metropolitan broadsheet newspaper – the Montreal Daily Star for March 3, 1932 (Fig. 1). Under the headline “Mystery Surrounds Movement of Colonel Lindbergh”, three photographs cascade down the page. The image at greatest distance from the headline is a picture of the Lindberg baby, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., who had been kidnapped two days earlier. The infant is sitting in a chair, kicking a ball, in an image of childhood innocence. The second cover is that of the May 22, 1932 issue of the French weekly crime periodical Police Magazine (Fig. 2). Here, we see the same picture of the Lindberg baby. In this case, however, the image is enlarged, made to occupy the entirety of the space normally reserved by this magazine for photographs on its covers. The image is set above a headline reading “LE FILS LINDBERGH ASSASSINÉ”. (This same image appeared, as well, on the front page of the Montreal newspaper La Patrie; see Fig. 7, below.)

Fig. 1 — Montreal Star, March 3, 1932.

Fig. 2 — Police Magazine, May 22, 1932.

  • 1 Cambron (Micheline) and Langlade (Gérard), « Le divers de l’événement de lecture », in Cambron (Mic (...)

2In the interim between these two appearances of this photograph, an act of hideous violence had taken place, but in neither instance of publication does this image itself reveal anything of the circumstances of that event. Indeed, this same photograph, distributed by press photo agencies, had circulated through the international press throughout the period between the kidnapping and murder, accruing to itself, in consecutive moments, the sentiments of hope, fear and grief that marked the journalistic coverage of what had come to be known as “l’affaire Lindbergh”. If, as Cambron and Langlade suggest elsewhere, an event separates “un avant et un après” (a before and after), images such as these, which circulate at different moments in the unfolding of an event, and accrue to themselves the distinctive affective and narrative features of each such moment, may be seen as confounding, through their repetition in multiple circumstances, any sense of an event’s linearity1.

  • 2 See, in the current issue: « Chronologie », COnTEXTES, 24 | 2019, browsed on May 22, 2019. URL : ht (...)

3I begin with this image, of the Lindbergh baby in his chair, in order to discuss several aspects of the photojournalistic coverage of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh, Jr. I will concentrate here on the front pages or covers of a variety of periodicals. Most of these are daily newspapers, but the corpus examined here includes examples of the weekly crime periodical published in France (Détective and Police Magazine) and the covers adorning two issues of a monthly American true crime magazine (Startling Detective) which reported on the Lindbergh case. Rather than studying a delimited corpus of periodicals of a unitary type, then, I seek to follow a set of images (and image-types) as they circulate across a variety of print culture forms. If the print culture of the early 1930s had solidified as a set of national traditions, periodical formats and journalistic practices, it may also be seen as a loosely interconnected, international machinery for the repetition of photographs and their juxtaposition within fluctuating relations of word and image. One effect of this machinery was that the appearance (and re-appearance) of photographs was not synchronized in any tightly calibrated fashion with the flow of events offered elsewhere in our chronology of the events surrounding the Lindbergh kidnapping2 My interest, here, is in three aspects of the selection and arrangement of photographs in coverage of the Lindbergh baby story. The first of these is the status of the periodical front page or cover during the years in which the Lindbergh affair unfolded, and the role of images in the layout of these pages. My concern here is with the logics of juxtaposition typical of the newly popular tabloid newspaper relative to other periodical formats. I will then discuss a key challenge faced by news periodicals in their coverage of crime: the unavailability of images of criminal acts themselves in the moments in which they are committed. As I shall argue, this absence of visual images of the crime itself shapes the conventions of crime-oriented photojournalism in important ways. Finally, I will explore one of the most striking features of visual coverage of the Lindbergh affair, the large number of images of the Lindbergh baby himself. While the wide-spread reproduction of images of the baby in press coverage of the affair is hardly surprising, given his high-profile status as victim, its effect is to produce unusual juxtapositions of photographs, in which images of innocent childhood are made to dominate, through their scale and affective force, others intended to highlight the criminal dimensions of the Lindbergh affair.

Tabloid revolutions

  • 3 This is the chronology summarized by Douglas Bicket and Lori A. Packer in their article « An Early (...)
  • 4 See Van den Dungen (Pierre), op. cit., p. 634.
  • 5 Osburn (John), « The Dramaturgy of the Tabloid: Climax and Novelty in a Theory of Condensed Forms » (...)

4The modernity of the newspaper, in the 1920s and 1930s, was visible on its front pages. Historians of the American newspaper will often speak of the late 1920s as constituting a third revolution in the history of the sensationalist press. This followed the emergence of the Penny Press in the 1830s and the so-called Yellow Press of the 1890s3. In these histories, a third period, extending from the latter half of the 1920s into the early 1930s, has come to be called the period of “Jazz Journalism”, largely because it unfolded during a period in American social history known as the “Jazz Age”. While, in fact, the tabloid newspaper, the journalistic form regarded as most emblematic of American “Jazz Journalism”, had its roots in the United Kingdom, with the launch of the British Daily Mail in 18964, it would come to be seen as quintessentially American in style and tone. The word “tabloid” refers to the physical dimensions of newspapers – the tabloid was half the size of the previously dominant broadsheet form – but it quickly acquired other connotations. One of these, as John Osborn has shown, refers to a general process of condensation. In tabloid journalism, journalistic reports became shorter in length, reduced to their barest informational content, while headlines were redesigned to create punctual, sensational effects rather than offering elaborate summaries of the articles which followed them5.

  • 6 See, for one description of these events, Denoyelle (Françoise), La lumière de Paris: Les usages de (...)

5The tabloid’s small size and condensed journalistic rhetorics were not sufficient in themselves, however, to distinguish the “jazz journalism” named by historians. The U.S. tabloid of the late 1920s was further differentiated from its broadsheet competitors and predecessors by the widespread use of photographs, particularly on front pages. The second half of the 1920s saw several developments which intensified the international circulation of photographs between newspapers: the perfection of systems (and reduction of costs) for the transmission of photographs over telephone lines, and the birth or consolidation of some of the major international news photography agencies, such as the Associated Press’ AP Photo service, established in 19276. These developments expanded the resources available to newspapers located outside of metropolitan centres, by giving them quick and easy access to photographs of high-profile events transpiring elsewhere. This, in turn, fueled the perception of the press as a massive machinery of attention able to direct public interest towards the same phenomena across large geographical areas.

  • 7 Bent (Silas), Ballyhoo: The Voice of the Press, New York, Horace Liveright, 1927. “Ballyhoo” was a (...)

6While the larger history of the sensational press in the United States is beyond the scope of this article, the rise of “Jazz Journalism” closely follows the arc of Charles Lindbergh’s emergence as a public figure. Indeed, Lindbergh’s celebrity as an aviator was seen by contemporary observers as the clearest evidence that journalism, at least in the United States, had been transformed (and, in the process, degraded.) In 1927, the journalist Silas Bent published a book-length study of the contemporary U.S. press, Ballyhoo: The Voice of the Press7, based on lectures he had given at the New School for Social Research. Bent offered the example of Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic as the most striking evidence of the American newspaper’s recent tendency towards trivialization and the excessive coverage of personalities. Comparing coverage of the Lindbergh flight to other recent examples of journalistic enthusiasm, Bent noted that:

  • 8 Bent (Silas), op. cit., p. 36. On this topic, see Simard-Houde (Mélodie), « Mutations et usages d’u (...)

[t]he return of the aviator to this country provoked even more surprising typographic and photographic orgies. In a single Sunday issue of one paper there were one hundred columns of text and pictures about this flier. In reporting his welcome by New York City, the Times used fifteen pages, the American ten, the Herald Tribune nine, the World eight, the Mirror and News, which are tabloids, twenty-three and sixteen pages respectively8.

7Later, Bent would compare this excessive coverage to that of an event he deemed of greater historical importance, the death of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson:

  • 9 Bent (Silas), op. cit., p. 38.

A clipping bureau, reporting on the whole country, estimated that in the first four days more than 27,000 columns had been given to the flier, which makes conservative a guess that in all he was the subject of print enough to fill four volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In the first four days 220,000 more stories, according to the clipping bureau, were printed about the Lindbergh flight than about the death of Woodrow Wilson, which had set a previous high record for peace times9.

  • 10 Stevens (John D.), Sensationalism and the New York Press, New York, Columbia University Press, 1991

8Such condemnations of the U.S. tabloid newspaper accompanied its rise to dominance in several metropolitan markets, particularly that of New York City. By the autumn of 1926, as newspaper historian John D. Stevens notes, the tabloid Daily News had the highest circulation of any newspaper in New York City, almost three times that of the more respectable New York Times; during the same period, broadsheets such as the World and the American saw their circulations decline10.

Text and image in the tabloid newspaper

  • 11 See, for one description of this difference, Churchill (Allen), Park Row, Rinehart and Company, 195 (...)

9Since its ascendance in the 1920s, the tabloid newspaper had produced new relationships between text and image. In the process, tabloids developed new rhetorics of sensation. Already, in certain broadsheet newspapers, the so-called “banner headline”, which stretched across the width of the newspaper’s front page, had partially displaced the “tombstone” layout, in which several columns ran in parallel fashion down a page (with the declining size of subsidiary headings indicating their reduced status)11. The tabloid newspaper would make, of the banner headline, its exclusive form of front-page announcement. While the tombstone form treated all stories on the front page as roughly equal, the banner headline allowed newspapers to give a separate prominence to any one, expanding its size so as to enhance its capacity to attract attention.

  • 12 Barnhurst (Kevin G.) and Nerone (John), The Form of News: A History, New York, The Guilford Press, (...)

10As John Nerone and Kevin G. Barnhurst have argued, the broadsheet front page, characterized by an abundance of news in textual form, came to look old-fashioned set alongside front pages conceived according to the new logics of the tabloid. Rather than demonstrating (as the broadsheet front page did) its capacity to cover a wide variety of events, the front page of the tabloid newspaper offered a limited sampling of the sensations to be found within it. The role of the cover, then, was more clearly that of seduction, appropriate to a publication typically bought on impulse on city streets for reading on public transportation systems. Likewise, while the broadsheet offered a visual symmetry between the various stories which filled its front pages, the first page of the tabloid emphasized juxtapositions of shape, style, size and tone between its various components. Through this juxtaposition of elements, the tabloid front page became increasingly “expressionistic”, offering exclamatory forms of sensation which were often distinct from those to be found on its inside pages12. While this transition was more pronounced in the North American than European press, and in popular rather than elite newspapers, its effects are visible across a range of publications.

11Within the modern tabloid newspaper of the inter-war period, there was wide variation in the relationship of text to image on the front page. Occasionally, in cases of high-profile events, a solitary headline appeared above a single large photograph to which it referred, however obliquely. The best-known example of this, perhaps, is the cover of the New York Daily News for January 13, 1928, with its single word headline, “Dead!”, and the blurred photograph of the execution of convicted murderess Ruth Snyder, taken illegally by a press photographer13. More often, in a pattern relatively uncommon in the present, images on the front page were often unaccompanied by headlines or textual reportage which referred to them (though the latter might be found in the interior pages). Likewise, headlines might stand alone, with no related text or imagery appearing on the front page. The multiple provenance of front-page materials often meant that late-arriving bits of news or images were set on the front page in disconnected form. It became typical of the front pages of tabloids that the number of photographs dealing with a journalistic event often bore little relation to the importance accorded to the articles reporting on that event, or to the size of the headlines which accompanied them. While the front page of the broadsheet newspaper established clear hierarchies between news items, using headlines, articles and images to reinforce each other, neither of these conventions were common on the covers of tabloid newspapers, which treated each unit of presentation as a distinct source of sensation.

L'Illustration, l’affaire Lindbergh and the tabloid form

  • 14 Noël (Mathieu), Le Montréal-Matin (1930-1978), Un journal d’information populaire, thèse de doctora (...)

12The disconnection between texts and images may be seen on four front pages of the Montreal newspaper L’Illustration. As Mathieu Noël notes, in his history of this newspaper, L’Illustration was the first Montreal newspaper (and thus the first French-language daily in North America) to adopt the tabloid format, which by this historical point was regarded as an “American” phenomenon14. The earliest of our covers from L’Illustration, that of March 5, 1932, features three photographs illustrating “L’enlèvement du jeune Lindbergh” (Fig. 3). That event had occurred several days earlier, however, and this title and the photographs which accompany it have the status of an explanatory supplement to the newspaper’s original report on the event. It is typical of North American tabloids at this point that the principal headline on this cover (“Montréal à la conquête de son port”) is not accompanied by illustrative images, and that the two images which run down the centre of the page are not linked to any story on the front page.

Fig. 3 — L’Illustration, March 5, 1932.

Fig. 4 — L’Illustration, May 13, 1932.

Fig. 5 — L’Illustration, September 27, 1934.

Fig. 6 — L’Illustration, September 21, 1934.

13On the front page of the same newspaper’s May 13, 1932 issue (Fig. 4), published following the news of the killing of the Lindbergh child, the dramatic headline (“On trouve l’enfant de Lindbergh assassiné”) is linked to three photos, which fill a large portion of the remaining space on the page. These show the Lindbergh baby in the company of his extended family, the baby’s nursemaid (in a small insert), and the baby itself, obviously alive and attentive. However, these are adjacent to two other photos (one demonstrating a new soap, the other showing a demonstrator at a London political rally being carried away by police) which bear no relationship to the Lindbergh story and are not the focus of headlines or any significant textual reportage. The juxtapositions here make it difficult to instantly deduce relationships between the three images on the right, or to link them to the tragedy named in the headline. The photographs on the left require that one read the captions, which briefly summarize the news events to which they refer, in order to confirm their lack of any relation to the headlines above.

14Two covers of L’Illustration from September, 1934, both following the arrest of Bruno Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby, offer further examples of the logics of the tabloid newspaper cover during this period. On the September 27 issue (Fig. 5), the headlines below the newspaper’s title – “Une session spéciale en novembre”, “Un attentat, rue Mont-Royal” and “Fonctionnaires de France en guerre contre Doumergue” – bear no connection to the five photographs which appear beneath them and which fill the remainder of the front page. Only the headline above the paper’s title, “Hauptmann condamné à subir son procès”, is “illustrated” on the front page, with an image of Bruno Hauptmann in the company of representatives of the judicial system. On a cover filled with faces, however, the image of Hauptmann does not reveal itself immediately, and any impulse to link this image to the highest of the cover’s headlines is discouraged by the absence of any such link between the other titles and the images below them.

15Finally, on the cover of the September 21, 1934 issue of L’Illustration (Fig. 6), we see a confusingly chaotic assortment of headlines and images of various sorts, whose effect is to exaggerate the disconnective juxtapositional logics already discussed. Images tied to the Lindbergh story sit beneath a headline referencing an unrelated (and unexplained) “‘Hold-Up’ et vol de diamants”, and to the left of a bordered box declaring that “La mort du bébé Lindbergh va être éclaircie”. The box framing the Lindbergh headline weakens its associations with the image beside it, just as the symmetrical placement of that image, below a headline referring to an unrelated hold-up and theft, produces a false, if quickly dispelled, association between these. The principal headline, “Enfin, la vérité”, refers to the case of Joseph Alisero, who would later be hanged for the murder of a woman, but this story is neither illustrated nor further developed on the front page. Finally, the bottom of the page is filled with a comic strip-like series of drawings illustrating the “ascension de Hitler”, from the beginning of World War I through his recent assumption of power.

Fig. 7 — La Patrie, September 21, 1934.

16We may contrast the tabloid visual logics of L’Illustration with the more conventional legibility of the broadsheet periodical. On the front page of the September 21, 1934 issue of Montreal newspaper La Patrie (Fig. 7), the headline “Mandat contre Hauptmann pour homicide” sits below another announcing the death of some 700 people in a typhoon in Japan. While these headlines are of roughly equal dimensions, the Lindbergh story dominates the front page, and its various elements are linked together in an arrangement which renders them coherent and totalizing. A collection of six photographs, many of them familiar from press coverage of the affair (including the image of the baby, sitting on his chair, with which we began this article) present us with the key elements of the whole affair, which was now reaching its conclusion. Portraits of the Lindbergh couple look out at the reader, while an image of the murdered baby sits between them; below these are images of subsidiary features of the case (the clothing worn by the baby on the day of his kidnapping, the infant’s nursemaid, Betty Gow – née Bessy Mowat Goway – and the house from which the baby was abducted.) A column departs downwards from the right end of the headline, its own titles declining in size in “tombstone” fashion, announcing judicial events in the treatment of Bruno Hauptmann. We have here the hierarchies of primary and secondary information, the clarity of exposition and the linking of text and image which distinguish the broadsheet newspaper from a tabloid like L’Illustration.

Crime and photojournalism

17What is striking about all of these covers, in their attempts to “represent” the events of the Lindbergh affair, is the relative banality of the images they contain. With only occasional exceptions, the images which filled the front pages of tabloid newspapers were those of people, who typically faced the photographer’s camera in formal poses rather than engaging in actions of journalistic interest. While popular memory of the tabloid press of this period fixates on images of airplane crashes or murdered gangsters lying on streets, the most common images on newspapers’ front pages were those of human faces staring out at the newspaper’s readers. As a result, the dynamism of the front page was achieved less through the sensational dimensions of any image than through various sorts of juxtaposition: of images with each other, and of photographs with headlines. Indeed, the exclamatory drama of headlines often contradicted (and may be seen as attempting to compensate for) the staid, static style of the photographs which accompanied them. The busy excitement of the front page was more often a function of the number of words and images arrayed upon it than of the specific communicative properties of any example of the latter.

18The journalistic “visibility” of the Lindbergh case was shaped by two characteristics of the case. One of these was the high visibility of the Lindbergh couple itself, celebrities who were regularly in the public eye. The other was the unwitnessed character of almost all of the key moments of drama which constituted the event (the kidnapping, the murder, and much of the investigation itself.) The tension between the visible and the invisible is played out across all of the front pages which functioned as a newspaper’s public face. Newspapers catered to an apparently limitless appetite of readers for images of the Lindbergh family, and were able to call upon substantial archives of such images which had been produced prior to the kidnapping itself. Visual representations of the crimes themselves, however, were unavailable, for obvious reasons.

  • 15 I develop this idea, in relation to other images of crime, in my article “After the Event: The Chal (...)

19The gap between those images which are available to newspapers and those which are not organizes the coverage of violent crimes in important ways. One form of this organization involves the fragmentation of the criminal act into its constituent elements15. While cinematic reconstructions of crime could develop imagistic genres like the shoot-out or police chase scene to capture the dynamic eventfulness of criminal or police action, the photojournalistic treatment of crime usually had recourse only to longstanding genres like the portrait, the still life or the landscape image. The problem of a crime-oriented photojournalism was not simply that such images were static and conventional, but that they could represent only secondary elements of a crime, from periods before or after its commission, rather than the fullness of its unfolding in a photographic present.

20Thus, if the actual abduction of Charles Lindbergh, Jr. was not observed by any photographer, newspapers nevertheless could publish images of the baby, his parents and nursemaid, the house in which the event occurred and, as the story unfolded, portraits of the various people who became participants in the drama. In coverage of violent crime, we usually see large numbers of images of individuals within institutional settings, typically those of courts or police buildings. (An example of such imagery is the photograph of Bruno Hauptmann appearing in court in Fig. 5.) We see, as well, portraits of the principals involved in the case – victims and their relatives, accused individuals, and key members of the judicial or law enforcement communities. While we are often shown the sites of the crimes themselves, only rarely can the locations of crimes be captured in ways that register the violence which has marked them. Usually these locations are simply streets, buildings or empty spaces which differ little in appearance from others which have been untouched by crime. The photographs of crime sites appearing in newspapers are either archival photos, taken before the commission of a crime, or images made after the crime, when most of its traces have disappeared. Images of the Lindbergh house, from which the baby was abducted, assume a sense of tragedy only through the use of unusual photographic angles (which, in the case of Fig. 6, suggest a sense of locational vulnerability) or through the presence of investigators whose simple presence in the image, at unspecified moments following the kidnapping, turn the house into a repository of signs and clues (Fig. 3).

21If the photographic representation of crime serves, on the one hand, to fragment the event into its constituent elements, it also produces a corpus of images divided between those taken before the crime and those produced after the event. In coverage of the Lindbergh affair, large numbers of photographs show the parents and their baby, and virtually all of these were taken before the kidnapping itself. As a result, these images show us faces that are unmarked by the tragedy and, especially in the case of images of the baby, expressive of innocent happiness or the joy of familial togetherness. We read these sentiments as evidence of the emotional states of these people before violence shattered their lives, but they are also clichés characteristic of the photographic genres (the family portrait or baby picture) which governed their production. This reliance on well-established photographic genres, on the covers of newspapers and in their interior coverage, undermines any claim that tabloid crime photography represented a totalizing and radical revolution in the image culture of the modern sensational newspaper. On the contrary, as I will suggest in the final section of this article, these images represent the persistence of forms of melodramatic sentimentality within a form otherwise regarded as modern. They also represent the intrusion, into the space of the newspaper, of photographs taken by people – family members and professional domestic photographers – unformed in the practices of photojournalism.

  • 16 Source : Vérilhac (Yoan), « L’Affaire Lindbergh dans L’Intransigeant. Des messages et de la mystiqu (...)

22As Vérilhac’s analysis of L’Intransigeant makes clear, press coverage of the Lindbergh kidnapping operated according to logics of assembly whereby texts and images pulled from a variety of sources were juxtaposed in ways which often blocked the intelligibility of the affair16. If news coverage of crimes uses fragmentary elements of the event (images of people, places, and objects) to compensate for the absence of the event itself, it also works through the assembly of images representing a wide variety of relationships to documentary actuality. Some images represent the typicality of recurrent events or situations prior to the crime (a child playing with a toy on an unspecified date); others capture specific moments in the unfolding drama (Hauptmann in a courtroom); others, like the cropped faces of participants in the events, invite uncertainty as to whether they are vernacular portraits or images produced within official processes (such as judicial processing, military enlistment or the acquisition of passports or other documents.) (The image of Charles Lindbergh in Fig. 6 elicits this uncertainty.)

Fig. 8 — Startling Detective, June, 1932.

Fig. 9 — Startling Detective, May, 1933.

23A very different kind of imagery appears on the covers of two issues of Startling Detective, one of a wave of American true-crime magazines launched in the 1920s and ascending to high levels of popularity in the 1930s. Published by the Fawcett company, Startling Detective, like other true crime magazines, differentiated itself from both the pulp fiction magazines with which it competed and from the tabloid newspapers which were engaged in coverage of many of the same crimes. To meet the challenge of the pulp fiction magazine, the true crime periodical proffered the claim that its stories were based on real events and produced with the aid of police enforcement officials and a network of regionally-based reporters. To compete with tabloid newspapers, true crime magazines featured lurid, coloured covers (like those of pulp fiction magazines) illustrating moments in the commission of the crimes themselves. This was only possible, of course, because the true magazine, in its first two decades, eschewed cover photographs in favor of illustrations which were painted or drawn. Fig. 8 and 9 imagine two moments in the Lindbergh drama: a woman (presumably the baby’s mother or nursemaid) holding the baby against an invisible threat, and a man (presumably the kidnapper) grasping the baby in the face of an unspecified challenge to his schemes.

24The effective sensationalism of these covers is largely an effect of the intensity of the emotion they display, and of their capacity to reconstruct situations (imaginary or not) unavailable to any photojournalist. However, we may also see such covers as overcoming two of the limitations of photojournalism discussed earlier. Rather than offering a fragmented vision of a criminal event, which breaks it into its constituent parts, the true crime magazine cover painting was able to join frightened mother and innocent son, evil criminal and distraught victim, in images which condensed character, situation and affect. Likewise, while newspaper photographs covering this event occupied a variety of temporal points at some distance from the dramatic moments of the crime itself, these illustrations could convey a sharp sense of singular eventfulness.

Babies, families and the melodrama of crime

25The third dimension of the Lindbergh photographs to be discussed here is the peculiar use made of photographs of the Lindbergh baby, Charles Lindbergh, Jr. A great many of these photographs are peculiar, I suggest, because they are embedded in juxtapositional structures which render them grotesque. Large images of the baby’s face and head are often set alongside images of other constituent features of the Lindbergh affair, including adult individuals, family groups or physical structures such as houses. Insofar as these other images are usually of dimensions equal to those of the pictures of the baby, they make the images of Charles Lindberg, Jr., appear enlarged, while human figures appearing in images alongside them seem unusually shrunken in comparison. While it is normal of photojournalistic images that they engage in scalar variation in representing people, places or things, the arrangement of multiple photographs to illustrate the Lindbergh affair often leaves the image of the baby at an unusual scale relative to other features of the story.

Fig. 10 — The Montreal Star, May 13, 1932.

26On the cover of The Montreal Star for May 13, 1932 (Fig. 10), an unusually large image of the head of the baby, peering out from his crib, is placed just above a smaller photograph of his standing parents, taken during a period before the birth of their baby. The posed, formal and distant character of this latter photograph contrasts sharply with the close, candid and intimate relationship with the child established in the first, but it is the excessive size of the portrait of the child, relative to that of his parents (over whom he seems to loom) which renders this lay-out almost monstrous. A slightly diminished sense of the grotesque is conveyed on the cover of the March 3, 1932 issue of the same newspaper (Fig. 1): here, the widely-used photograph of the baby kicking a ball is roughly equivalent in size to two other images of the Lindbergh house. The sense of strangeness produced by such juxtapositions is the result, perhaps, of our experience of cinema, in which (by the early 1930s, and certainly in our present) transitions between viewpoints of such radically different scale would be mediated by intervening images which moved from proximity to distance in a series of graded steps.

Fig. 9 — Daily News (New York). May 2, 1932.

Fig. 10 — Détective (France). March 10, 1932.

27Nowhere is the image of the Lindbergh baby larger than on those occasions in which it fills the entirety of the periodical cover, though in such instances the absence of any juxtaposition with other images serves to “normalize” it. This is the case, for example, of the front page of the May 2, 1932 issue of the New York Daily News (Fig. 11) and the cover of the March 10, 1932 issue of the French magazine Détective (Fig. 12). Both of these show the Lindberg baby sleeping, with blankets pulled up close to his neck, in what may well be inverted (albeit touched-up and differently cropped) versions of the same photograph. In the case of both image-filled covers, hope for the baby’s return was still possible, and the effect of both is to convey something of his precious character. Here, of course, the large size of the image seems justified by the fact that it is the sole image adorning the cover, part of that long tradition by which, in the 20th century, single human faces filled the public face of periodicals of all genres.

  • 17 Ruby (Jay), « Portraying the Dead », OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying, 19/1, August 1980, p. 1-20 (...)

28We may contemplate these images now through the prism of a large body of scholarship on the 19th century tradition of photographic representation of the dead infant. If this tradition seems far from the journalistic exploitation of images of jubilant childhood that mark so many photographs of the Lindberg baby, some of the latter pictures resonate, however inadvertently, with that tradition. In particular, we may find affinities between these images of the Lindberg baby at rest and the fixation of 19th century post-mortem photographers on the stillness of the deceased infant. On the covers of the Daily News and Détective reproduced here, the Lindbergh baby is, of course, shown as alive, but the peaceful repose conveyed by the image is not far from the eternal “last sleep” identified by Ruby and others as a common theme of Victorian death photography. Central to 19th century post-mortem photography was a view of death as an extended passage between states, such that the peaceful demeanour of the photographed infant might still function as a source of comfort for the bereaved17.

29The photographs of the Lindbergh family, baby and nursemaid to be found in most coverage of the case share the status of having been taken before the kidnapping and murder occurred. If this status is obvious, especially in the case of the murdered baby (photographs of whose corpse would be regarded as distasteful), it nevertheless points to a key feature of crime-oriented journalism. The images of victims and bereaved family members used to illustrate news reports of violent crime are, most of the time, images taken for purposes other than the documentation of a crime. Typically, they have been taken prior to the criminal act itself, in the context of family rituals or as part of the simple documentation of domestic life. These images of victims and relatives are usually images of innocence, marked by poses and expressions which differ significantly from the grim determination that marks photographs of suspects being led to prison or officials speaking to the press. Images of domestic innocence are not usually produced through the practices of photojournalism but, almost certainly, supplied or obtained outside of such practices.

  • 18 Brooks (Peter), The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama and the Mode of Excess(...)

30In this respect, the press coverage of violent crime often functions as one of the few sites in which the intimate occasions of family life are magnified and the conventions of domestic photography made to circulate across public image platforms. Like the coverage of many other stories of family tragedy, that of the Lindbergh affair leaves, as one on its residues, an archive of publicly circulating images in which the intimate rituals and sentiments of familial life are captured. If coverage of the Lindbergh affair partakes of melodrama, in the sense that Peter Brooks defines it, as a narrative frame dividing the world in Manichean fashion into absolute good and evil, this is not simply because the story reported by journalists easily found its villains and victims and drew sharp distinctions between them18. The world conveyed in coverage of the Lindbergh affair is further divided, as suggested earlier, between those images generated before the kidnapping and murder and those which followed it.

31The innocence purity of these images of the Lindbergh baby has much to do with their invocation of long-established conventions for understanding baby pictures. In the case of the photographs discussed here, that purity has much to do, as well, with the fact that, as family photographs, they appear to be untainted by the professional cynicism of the tabloid photojournalist or the self-control of the adult photographic subject. Images of the baby’s parents, in contrast, seem posed and controlled, of limited affective power, however much the couple were the object of public adulation and sympathy. The consistent banality of these latter images – of the portraits of the Lindbergh couple endlessly repeated in newspaper coverage – is one of the features of that coverage which render it static and unsensational.

32The machinery of journalism, in looking to represent victimhood, reached into inventories of imagery produced outside of that machinery. In doing so, it found photographs of high sentimental value, such as those of a baby engaged in rest or play. The affective value of these images for newspapers is confirmed in the frequency with which they were made to fill entire covers or stand out against the static photographs – of parents and suspect, courtroom and crime scene – with which they were juxtaposed. In their contrived appeal to the eye of the observer, these images of the Lindbergh baby confirm our sense of the newspaper’s front page as the site of a distinctly modern operation of seduction. At the same time, in their blatant appeal to the emotional responses which are the inevitable effect of images of infantile innocence, these images partake of a much longer history of sentimentality and its public manifestations.

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1 Cambron (Micheline) and Langlade (Gérard), « Le divers de l’événement de lecture », in Cambron (Micheline) and Langlade (Gérard) (dir.), L’événement de lecture, Montréal, Nota bene, 2015, p. 15.

2 See, in the current issue: « Chronologie », COnTEXTES, 24 | 2019, browsed on May 22, 2019. URL :

3 This is the chronology summarized by Douglas Bicket and Lori A. Packer in their article « An Early “Denial of Ekphrasis”: Controversy over the Breakout of the Visual in the Jazz Age Tabloids and the New York Times », Visual Communication , 3/3, October, 2004, pp. 360-279. For an overview of roughly parallel developments in France in the 19th century, see the detailed account by Pierre Van den Dungen, « Professions du journalisme et l’écriture au quotidien : Organisation des rédactions », in Kalifa (Dominique), Régnier (Philippe), Thérenty (Marie-Ève) and Vaillant (Alain) (eds.), La Civilisation du journal: Histoire culturelle et littéraire de la presse française au XIXe siècle, Paris, Nouveau Monde Éditions, 2011, p. 615-651.

4 See Van den Dungen (Pierre), op. cit., p. 634.

5 Osburn (John), « The Dramaturgy of the Tabloid: Climax and Novelty in a Theory of Condensed Forms », Theatre Journal, 46/4, December 1994, p. 507-522.

6 See, for one description of these events, Denoyelle (Françoise), La lumière de Paris: Les usages de la photographie 1919-1939. Tome II, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1997, p. 86-87.

7 Bent (Silas), Ballyhoo: The Voice of the Press, New York, Horace Liveright, 1927. “Ballyhoo” was a term used to describe the hyperbolic cries of those who travelled to towns in advance of circuses of theatrical troupes, in order to promote their performances. It came to refer more generally to exaggerated forms of public rhetoric.

8 Bent (Silas), op. cit., p. 36. On this topic, see Simard-Houde (Mélodie), « Mutations et usages d’un mythe médiatique : l’Aviateur héroïque reconfiguré par l’affaire Lindbergh », COnTEXTES, 24 | 2019, browsed on May 22, 2019. URL:

9 Bent (Silas), op. cit., p. 38.

10 Stevens (John D.), Sensationalism and the New York Press, New York, Columbia University Press, 1991.

11 See, for one description of this difference, Churchill (Allen), Park Row, Rinehart and Company, 1958.

12 Barnhurst (Kevin G.) and Nerone (John), The Form of News: A History, New York, The Guilford Press, 2001.

13 This front page may be viewed online at “The power of the front cover”,, accessed 15 June 2017.

14 Noël (Mathieu), Le Montréal-Matin (1930-1978), Un journal d’information populaire, thèse de doctorat en histoire, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2014.

15 I develop this idea, in relation to other images of crime, in my article “After the Event: The Challenges of Crime Photography”, in Hill (Jason E.) and R. Schwartz (Vanessa), eds., Getting the Picture: The Visual Culture of the News, London, Bloomsbury, 2015, p. 139-144.

16 Source : Vérilhac (Yoan), « L’Affaire Lindbergh dans L’Intransigeant. Des messages et de la mystique nationale », rapport de recherche, équipe de Montpellier. Séminaire international, May 2015.

17 Ruby (Jay), « Portraying the Dead », OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying, 19/1, August 1980, p. 1-20, and especially p. 5-7. See also, among many other treatments of this subject, Brown (Amanda), « The Way She Looked the Day She Died: Vernacular Photography, Memory, & Death », Proceedings of the Art of Death and Dying Symposium, University of Houston, October 25-27, 2012, URL:, accessed on 29 March 2018; and Linkman (Audrey), Photography and Death, London, Reaktion Books, 2011.

18 Brooks (Peter), The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama and the Mode of Excess, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1976.

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Fig. 1 — Montreal Star, March 3, 1932.
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Fig. 2 — Police Magazine, May 22, 1932.
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Fig. 3 — L’Illustration, March 5, 1932.
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Fig. 4 — L’Illustration, May 13, 1932.
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Fig. 5 — L’Illustration, September 27, 1934.
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Fig. 6 — L’Illustration, September 21, 1934.
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Fig. 7 — La Patrie, September 21, 1934.
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Fig. 8 — Startling Detective, June, 1932.
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Fig. 9 — Startling Detective, May, 1933.
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Fig. 10 — The Montreal Star, May 13, 1932.
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Fig. 9 — Daily News (New York). May 2, 1932.
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Fig. 10 — Détective (France). March 10, 1932.
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Will Straw, « The face of the journal: Photojournalism and l’affaire Lindbergh »COnTEXTES [En ligne], 24 | 2019, mis en ligne le 02 juillet 2019, consulté le 27 juillet 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Will Straw

McGill University/Department of Art History and Communications Studies

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