Defining (Photo)journalism

Defining (Photo)journalism

I seem to be into “defining” these days. My last post was on “truth and reality”, now I am addressing “journalism” — and “photo­jour­nalism” in particular. Those are big words and I am totally aware that some people might be offended by this.

It’s been a break in my writing for a couple of weeks — due mainly to a temporary single parenthood period with a three year old son and a five year old daughter requiring most of my attention at home. Man, talk about a full time job… my sincerest admiration to single parents who do this on a regular basis.

My previous post did generate quite a lot of discussion and one immediate consequence was that I was asked to make a small presen­tation in a meeting our National Press-photo­graphers Association organized last week. I was happy and proud to accept and I made a small presen­tation plus took part in a panel discussion.

But as a result of this two week period of single parenthood, I felt I was not at my sharpest… and thus I want to continue just a bit.

Because: I felt something was wrong, there was something deeply disturbing in the whole, although I could not put my finger on it until couple of days later.

Should we hand these back?

Yes, we talked and shared thoughts and opinions — lots of good commentary from different people working in the field. But, in retrospect, one thing was kind of weird: several comments mentioned “news-images” (uutiskuva in Finnish) as somehow a special case where we have to take extra precau­tions as not to deviate from the “truth” of the situation. After making the point on “news-images”, we went on and on what we could and what we could not to do for e.g. cover images of our glossy magazines. Removal of blemishes, highlighting eye-color, compo­siting, etc. — what should we allow?

In other words: as if there were the special case “uutis­ku­va/news-images” — and then all the rest.

I looked into Scott Rosenberg’s great talk delivered in Stanford couple of weeks back (I warmly recommend reading it) and his definition of journalism:

You are doing journalism when you are delivering an accurate and timely account of some event to some public.”

Accurate and timely” are the keywords in this context. What has an over-stylized image on a cover of e.g. MN got to do with “accurate and timely”- or with an “event”? Or any totally staged fashion shot in general for that matter? How about an “intimate” story of athlete at home wearing ten different pieces of sponsored clothing — doing his/hers daily stuff — maybe wearing full make-up — as if totally unaware of the photographer?

Fifty years from now — and even sooner — people looking at our images are looking for a truthful account of an era: places as they were then, the general look of the people, the clothes people really wore, buildings, artifacts, modes of trans­por­tation, etc. In short, they will be looking for a journa­listic — or rather — for a photo­jour­na­listic account of how things were.

You can ask yourself, do majority of our images today reflect that kind of reality? Can they really be called journa­listic — or photo­jour­na­listic — images in any true sense of the definition? Accurate and timely?

Instead of treating “news-images” as a special case, should we go totally radical and exclude all the others from the genre of journalism/photojournalism?

And thus, last week when we left our meeting, should the majority of us have left our press-creden­tials in a bucket by the door labeled “To Be Confiscated” — as lot of the work today has nothing to do with doing journalism?

3 Replies to “Defining (Photo)journalism”

  1. Kari,

    I love to watch a good picture, and to read a good story. The real pros are doing their job superb. Their pics/reports are surviving now, they are good, they have something you can read/watch, you can trust on their expertise, you know when you buy “that” particular magazine/newspaper: it’s good.

    I love to read (and view the news-pics ofcourse) ‑here in Belgium- from the newspaper “De Standaard”, simply tex, superb written, to the point, and great news-pics. But what’s good photo-journalism? Thatz really expert stuff. And I think a very nice discussion.


  2. For me, photo­jour­nalism died a long time back… not that any image in history has ever been above accusa­tions of subjec­tivity and i don’t look at the past with rose tinted glasses. But in the UK when the magazines which typically carried photo­jour­nalism became glossy, advert-driven and supported lifestyle magazines, then there was no space for gritty, horrific, and saddening realities. There was a similar thing in the late 90s when the ‘alter­native’ magazines became too cool for their own good and attracted huge adver­tising. Ergo: no longer alter­native and almost identical to Vogue. The type of imagery and layout they could get away with then chanegd drama­tically. And, indeed, many of these magazines disappeared.

    As you say, what we’re left with now is a pretty depressing reflection of our times. Celebrity based, overly photo-shopped blandness. (Again, all imagery through the history of printing has been touched up, but what we see now is images of people that are borderline not human). Is this reality? Is this our legacy? In one respect, yes. (Depres­singly). Corporate concerns have killed so many of the outlets where truth many be told. Or perhaps more correctly, if not THE truth then ANOTHER truth. This is the same across all elements of society: clothing, washing deter­gents, restau­rants etc etc. Even when you find something interesting, a little digging often shows that the parent company is some huge multi-national corporation.

    But perhaps there are other outlets that are now more valid. As your other writing suggest with the inevi­tably death of the newspaper, technology is going to be used in a variety of ways. I couldn’t see the point of Twitter until the clashes in Iran last year… and then it suddenly became valid. Likewise, whilst MTV validated the concept of the music video (and therefore the need for band image), youtube has validated 3–5 minute films as a complete genre. (Yes, they existed before, but as a medium youtube made them visable and accessible).

    I find it sad that photo­jour­nalism (as it has been previously defined) will continue to die out. But I am sure people have said the same about a million other things that were once valid in their times and gradually slipped away.

    But I’ll be more sad when libraries and books disappear.… :)

    1. Adam -

      thank you very much for a comment, which reflects that you have done serious thinking on this. Please forgive me for not returning the favor and commenting deeper — because it would merit it absolutely — I am just up to my ears with pics to edit by monday morning.
      I don”t think books will disappear… nor photo­grapy, both are doing fine. Paper — as an interface — is in dire straits. But as I said elsewhere, the Phoenix is rising… like yesterday I was applying this technique I demon­strated in Barcelona (see the appropriate post) where I was trans­mitting images straight to a live slideshow… and within couple of hours, I built an audience on c. 11 000 people. Doesn’t sound that much, but please, it was a small local event and this is Finland, population c. 5 milj. …
      Apply that to something happening in Irak or Gaza… and we have a totally new dimension to classic photo­jour­nalism… I am working on this so stay tuned.
      But as I said, gotta go, more pics to edit, it never ends…
      Very nice comment, thank you one more time.

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