Images of Economic Disaster The Best and Worst of Financial Crisis Photography

The world's photojournalists have been doing their best to find original ways to illustrate the global financial crisis. Some of their efforts have been commendable -- others, not. SPIEGEL ONLINE has collected the best of the best, and some of the worst.


First things first: It would be difficult to pin the blame on the current financial crisis on the traders on the floor of the world's stock markets. It's not their fault.

But seriously. How many more images of contorted, exasperated, horrified and desperate traders can we take? For the last two weeks, as the financial markets have remained frozen and the stock markets -- at least until this week -- plummeted to ever lower depths, newspapers, Web sites and television news have offered up a parade of faces buried in hands, mouths agape in dismay and arms flailing in the air as traders watch stock prices fall off a cliff.

On the other hand, though, photographing a crisis set off by speculation in funds that few have ever heard of, resulting in the freezing up of a finance system that hardly anyone understands, presents a unique set of challenges.

"It's a major difficulty," Martin Oeser, a photographer for the German news agency DDP, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "There are always new images, but one can't help but feel there isn't anything left to take pictures of."

Oeser has taken pictures on the floor of the German stock market, the DAX, since 2002. And he has been lucky, in that the DAX is home to a number of particularly expressive traders, a couple of whom have become famous for their grimaces far outside the borders of Germany.

But in the last few weeks, photographers seem to be going out of their way to illustrate the financial crisis in new ways. A picture of a bank reflected upside down in a puddle, for example. Or bankers holding umbrellas. Or storm clouds over world capitals. Anything to symbolize an economy in freefall.

"Sometimes you sit there for two hours and don't see anything to photograph," Kai Pfaffenbach, a 13-year DAX veteran who takes pictures for Reuters, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But I think there are many original images. The DAX index conflated with an emergency exit sign, for example. But yeah, it is difficult to do something that nobody else has done yet."

Like, for example, an image of a toy bull with his head in a noose hanging from a computer screen. Another one showed a similar bull with his head halfway torn off. Those particular images, some taken by Pfaffenbach, actually got the trader responsible in a bit of hot water. The little green toys, after all, were intended as marketing handouts.

And yet, for a story with little visual appeal, it was exactly what editors were looking for. That little green bull made an appearance on the front page of papers across the world. "If someone finds something I haven't photographed in my 13 years at the DAX, I will buy him a beer," says Pfaffenbach.

SPIEGEL ONLINE has taken him at his word and put together the best of the best -- and some of the worst -- of images intended to decorate the financial crisis.


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