Do you remember, back not so long ago, when most people had msn.com set as their homepage? And like cheesy women’s magazines, which are capable of convincing me, month after month, that their new relationship tips are actually new, msn.com was the master of the catchy headline. The articles, on the other hand, were almost always super lame. And then I discovered Firefox and Gmail and Microsoft had lost a direct portal to my brain.
But not so long ago I was remembering the best msn.com feature – the Week in Pictures. Every Friday, MSNBC pulls together about fifteen photos taken that week around the world. They come in from the big dogs – the AP and Reuters and AFP, but also from some small town papers. As the headlines have flown by in the past few months – Japan, Egypt, Libya, flooding in the Midwest, volcano in Chile, to name a few, and always Iraq and Afghanistan – the Week in Pictures has made each tragedy seem real. Has made the people who live in these places seem like individuals, crying into the shoulder of a husband because a tornado took the roof off the house and left nothing inside. The sheer number of identical cars, stacked like blocks in a coastal parking lot in Japan, has given a scale to the suffering that reading articles full of statistics will never be able to do.
But the Week in Pictures isn’t just about tragedy. Each week, there are truly lovely photos – from NASA, of festivals, the seasons unfolding north and south of the equator. There are charming moments and scenes to make you laugh, too. I love the peeks into everyday life, photos that would never make most newspapers because they aren’t directly related to a news item. They are what happens, all of the time, just outside the frame of the images that normally make it to our pages and to our screens.
And after looking through the week’s photos, you can vote for your favorite. Or which you think is best, which is different than a favorite, really. I guess the criteria is unclear, which, to me, is another level of fascination – each week I choose what I think is the best photo and then I guess what will come out on top in the voting. Then I click submit, and I am so rarely right. There are certain themes that are more likely to rank highly – anything involving the US military, cute kids, dogs – but I can’t seem to put my finger on any sort of algorithm to explain why people are drawn to what they are. And the photos I choose almost always land in the middle of the pack, and occasionally toward the very bottom. Apparently what attracts me is different from the norm (but I guess I could have told you that after having read so many women’s magazine articles!)
Now I subscribe to the RSS feed, so spending a few minutes looking through what happened in the world this week has become a bit of a Friday morning ritual. As I walk to work, I wonder what corners of the world might enter into my frame that morning. I reflect a bit on what it would be like to have tragedy come to your front door. I delight in the small changes that signal the start of a new season. And I smile as I think about how different we all are, how different our desires and preferences are, but also how photography can make so many exotic locales and customs seem not to different from our own.