The Enduring Importance of Photojournalism – a talk by Ben Edwards at Daniel Blau gallery
‘Photojournalists are looking for the latent moments of great significance hidden in everyday reality.’
Tuesday October 1st, 2013
I attended a talk at the Hoxton Gallery, Daniel Blau. As I investigate further in to voyerism, and the act of the viewer, i wanted to look further into the importance of photojournalism, and the fascination with the media the public has. Every one want to know about other peoples lives. Most commonly, that of celebrities.
I came across this talk after receiving an email from the galleries monthly newsletter. The lecture was run by Ben Edwards, who is a photographer/ film maker and the Course leader of MA Photojornalism at the University of Westminster. His current practice switches between personal projects, commercial assignments and stock photography/footage and his stills and film work is represented by the well know Getty Images and Corbis.
Photojournalism is a particular form of journalism based in collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication, that creates images in order to tell a news story.
There were several points in the discussion Edwards spoke about.
Has it been manipulated?
In the course of history, photojournalism has been declared dead on several occasions. It happened in connection with the discovery of historic pictures that had been manipulated. It happened when television gained strength and it happened most recently with the advent of digital photography. With digital photography the negative disappeared as a basis for credibility and it became possible for photographers to create pictures in a computer like painters can.
But that does not change the fact that readers perceive photos as a medium which takes its starting point in reality. When readers question a photograph they always ask “Is it real?” or “Has it been manipulated?” What they are really asking is whether they can believe the photographer as a collector and provider of information. They question the photographer just as they have always questioned whether journalist are making up quotes or tv-stations are constructing particular situations.
Credibility in the future
Today all modern digital picture files contain an ‘EXIF-file’ which is created when the picture is taken. The file contains data about the date, the camera, the setting of the camera etc. The EXIF-file will also show if a picture at some point has been altered.
Above this level is the Raw-format which is used by all wellknown camera producers (Canon, Nikon, Kodak and others). According to Kodak Professional all digital Raw-files are credible and can not be manipulated without leaving any signs. The Raw-file can therefore be considered the negative of the digital photograph. This particular legal aspect has for instance meant that the Danish Police and the Danish Fire Services have chosen to buy digital cameras.
So the raw material of digital photography is not less credible but poses other challenges. Digital photography is not by itself manipulative.
Photographers are storytellers
Photojournalism has reached the same status as all other forms of journalism. A status as a medium which is part of the daily stream of information and to which readers have a critcial attitude. Photojournalism has not become more or less credible, just as journalism has not become more or less credible. Photojournalists must take on the role of storytelling rather than seeing themselves as illustrators of articles.
Greater demands are made on photojournalists but also on other users of pictures such as journalists, editorial assistants, and editors. Photojournalists are trying to get attention in an increasingly visually oriented environment and therefore photojournalists must make use of visual storytelling techniques to become better storytellers.
Telling a story
Every journalistic photograph should tell its own story. The portrait where the eyes catch the reader and tell stories about the person’s life. The strange light over a natural landscape. Or the funny moment from everyday life which stimulates the reader’s memory.
All photographic stories should be based on a photographic angle which creates identification for the reader. Makes the reader feel surprised, emotional, or just stimulated to think about something. That is the strenght of the photograph. The story is always the most important – the main contents. The storytelling tools frame the photograph in ways that underpin and strengthen the contents. A well composed photograph that makes good use of its mode of expression to fit the story is more effective and makes a greater impression on the reader. It communicates better.
Photographs and words must complement each other
I believe that photojournalism is a very valid form of journalism. A photograph often can capture things that words cannot. The hardness of a situation, the faces of the image, feeling, focus. However, photographs do not provide readers with answers. A photograph will not tell you why a child is crying. Therefore it is doubly important that the written and the photographic story complement each other and use each others’ strenghts. The strength of photojournalism lies in the ability to communicate feelings and the immediate reaction from readers. Written journalism gives you the answers to who, what and why. The photojournalist must reflect on his (and the journalist’s) story and the best way to express it visually. The means and the options must be considered and a common angle determined, so the final story provides the reader with information as well as experiences.
With the dismissal of photographic staff from The Chicago Sun-Times, news photography in general is having to address, yet again, the uncertainty that a career as a professional news photographer might become a scarce position in the near future. iPhones, citizen journalism, AP, Reuters Getty et al. have been instrumental in the way news is gathered and disseminated. Economics and global economy can not be ignored in current trends of employment. Ben Edwards, a former international news and current documentary photographer, will be talking about the contemporary trends in news photography, the historical lineage of news/documentary photography and where this might all be leading, with our current exhibition of works by former Sun-Times photographer John H. White as a backdrop.