What is a cutline?

Before newspapers entered the digital age, photographs were printed, marked up, and altered entirely by hand.

Newsrooms used grease pencil to mark crop lines, applied paint to highlight black and white tones or to hide unwanted details, and scribbled captions on the back of prints. Those descriptive captions are called “cutlines.” Typically written by a news photographer or picture editor, they identify the photograph and tell its story with a few quick words.

Learn about the storytelling power of a cutline by playing Match the Cutline and Fill in the Blank. Discover how changing a word here or there can make all the difference. Then browse highlights from the exhibition in our online Image Gallery.

John McNeill, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau springs off diving board, en route to quarry splashdown, 1968, gelatin silver print with grease pencil, 17.2 × 23.5 cm. Gift of The Globe and Mail Newspaper to the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada

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