|1/14/21 Fred Lynch and Veronica Lawlor discuss reportage with host Rob Sketcherman.|
What is reportage? Veteran urban sketchers Veronica Lawlor and Fred Lynch attempted to answer that question in an illuminating discussion hosted by Rob Sketcherman during the Jan. 10 USk Talks (link to YouTube recording available on that page).
When urban sketchers hear the term “reportage,” they probably think first of Richard Johnson, widely known for his field sketches made in the trenches (literally) in Iraq and Afghanistan for The Washington Post. Veronica, herself, is well known for her series of sketches from Ground Zero during and after 9/11. However, Veronica and Fred pointed out that sketching doesn’t have to cover “big” news events to qualify as reportage. The significant aspect is that the sketches document a story. In Fred’s paraphrased words, sketch as if you are writing a letter to a friend to describe something you saw or experienced.
In Veronica’s documentation of the pandemic, one sketch shows a bowl of fruit she had for breakfast. On a normal day, this sketch would not be reportage, and she acknowledged that she would not typically sketch her meals. But in the early days of the pandemic, getting fresh fruit was sometimes challenging, and she thought about the workers who made it possible for her to have the fruit. In another sketch, residents applaud from their apartment windows each evening to express appreciation for frontline workers. These and other sketches were the reportage of her pandemic experience.
To get viewers thinking about the storytelling aspect of reportage, Fred and Veronica reminded us that the pandemic is a historic event. Even if our day-to-day tasks seem humdrum, the way we spend our days is a record of this event. The USk Talks challenge they gave us was to document our pandemic days with sketches and related stories.
Following USk Japan’s prompt back in May, I did a sketch journal page exactly like this challenge, and it was fun, but I probably won’t do another. The USk Talk discussion did, however, make me think about reportage in a different way.
I, too, have usually associated reportage with media coverage of “newsworthy” events, not the day-to-day lives of ordinary people like me. And unlike Veronica and other sketchers who have covered Black Lives Matter and other demonstrations, I’m not inclined to participate in largescale events during a pandemic; my participation in Seattle’s 2017 Women’s March is my only example of that type of reportage.
The pandemic itself, though, is a largescale event (worldwide is about as large as you can get). Since mid-March last year when the gravity of the pandemic became apparent, I’ve made 162 sketches on location in the four-by-10-block neighborhood area where I walk nearly every day. I normally wouldn’t think of these sketches as “reportage.” Individually, the cars, trees, trash cans and residential streets don’t tell much of a story, and honestly, I probably wouldn’t be sketching them at all if I had other, more interesting things and places to sketch. Collectively, however, those sketches show how the pandemic has changed my sketching perimeter from the globe to a half-square mile. That’s the story I tell with every sketch.