Over and over one can read, or hear, that photojournalism is dead, or dying. And it is, but not for the reason that one might think.
What is really dying is the journalism in photojournalism . A while back photographers were great investigators, reporters, that would uncover a story and bring it to the world’s attention through images rather than text. They would find a story and treat it, from beginning to end, with images.
These days, photojournalists have become article illustrators. They either stroll along a word reporter and photograph accompanying images for the article, or are told to shoot specific images that would fit nicely with the story. That is when they get an assignment. Otherwise, they will read a story somewhere and replicate in images what they have read about.
It is rare these days to discover images that really break a news story. Images that perform the tasks of informing. Today’s photojournalist should be called newsillustrators as they battle each other for the best spot a news conference or nice angle at a parade. There is much more to photojournalism then being there at the right time.
Salgado brought us the famine in Ethiopia like no journalist could had ever done . The result was as powerful as the images themselves as they led to worldwide concern and involvement into what would have otherwise been a paragraph in the New York Times international briefs. The same photojournalists that complain about the lack of space for stories are the same that are not providing stories.
In order to be revived, photographers need to rediscover investigation. They should find the stories to shoot, make sure it has not already been covered a thousand times, either by article or other photographers, and do a thorough job in explaining in images what they see.
Currently, most rely on the opinions of editors at photo agencies or NGO’s who provide for their expenses. The goal is to be published, not to report. The intent is wrong from the start. Its style over substance. It takes an independent mind with an uncanny need to dig for the truth. To be more curious about the world than the rest of us. To keep on digging where others have left off.
There are a few misconception that are floating around. First is the need for speed. Its becoming an arm race to deliver images as quickly as possible. What used to be the domain of wire service photographers is now spreading to everyone. If my images get there before the others than I must be good. While it might help in being published because your images got just on time to hit a deadline, it is not photojournalism, its playing the odds.
The second misconception is style over substance. Thanks to photography museums and other grants, photojournalism is being thought as fine art. Therefore photographers go through great efforts to be different and create a style. They forget that they are journalist before all and start regarding themselves as artist. Thus the appearance of Holga’s, Lensbabie’s and other interference. The result is a detachment from the subject of the story and a complete lost of interest from the readers.
The third is a reliance on traditional media. Most photographers these days cannot see past the usual forms of medium to support their images. Photography and photojournalism is not a conventional tool and should not be treated as such. As much as the images must exist to inform, as much as the medium should support the language. There is no mold for how to create a great story, thus there should be no traditional way to make it visible. The rules should always be broken in order to make the message visible.
As this industry changes, it is important for its photographers to change and innovate. Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier and cheaper to have images seen. Yet hardly anyone has used the medium at its full potential. Granted, it might not pay as well as a double page in Time magazine but it will certainly be seen by many more people worldwide. And, isn’t it what photojournalism is all about ?