it’s not photography that is important, its the message that it conveys. What photojournalism is all about, is messaging. It brings to our attention something that is happening elsewhere, beyond the scope of our own eyes and individuality. It permits viewers to travel through space and time without ever leaving their individual lives. Slowly the medium is becoming the message, instead of transporting it. Photographers are becoming the stars, the focal point, rather than their images.

In a society who likes to have hero, role models and stars, it is not such a surprise. But it is somewhat counterproductive to the core role of photojournalism. Instead of transposing the viewer in a place and time he or she could not have possibly been in, it is slowly shifting to bringing the viewer into a photographers head. Who took the image becomes more important than the image itself. There is nothing wrong about having a style, but real photojournalist should be anonymous. Every step they take to be better known is one more step away from their role of being a photojournalist.

Granted, we fall in a conundrum. How to get assignments, thus money, while remaining anonymous and preserving perfect objectivity? How to avoid to take images that are expected instead of what is seen ? And how to avoid sending a message within the  message.If photographer X is known for his/her highly communist political views, how can fully trust what I see? In a way, isn’t photography better served by a pool of unknown wire service photographers, like we have seen during the Mumbai attacks, than photojournalist superstars ?

Maybe so. But that could also be an added argument in the camp of the Citizen photojournalist camp: many anonymous eyes are better than one trained and famous one. Well, not so fast.

Citizen are not journalists. We have seen it over and over and will see it forever. During a conflict, drama, war, catastrophe , hurricane, citizens take care of their lives first. A photojournalist does not. They take pictures first. Their priority is to report to all those who are blind because they are not present. Capturing the message.

But not being there doesn’t mean being stupid. Studies show that 95% of human communication is non verbal. Looking at photographs is a perfect example of that. I can, with the right photograph, from the comfort of my living room,  almost feel, smell, understand a situation that has happened elsewhere and at another time.

So why would the photographer matter? How does knowing that he/she is gay/black/asian/ midget/muslim/nazi/famous/rich/french be important ? Can we relate better to the photograph when we know who shot it ?When you see pictures of your nephew, does he look cuter because it was taken by his mom or his brother ?

Its the illusion of greatness: we might be inclined to see an image as great because the photographer has taken great images in the past. Magazines or websites might publish an image just because it was taken by a branded photographer. But then we all fail, don’t we?  Even great photographers take lousy pictures. And what because of the reality of the event then ?

Distorted. By our obsession with  the infallibility of stardom. If he/she has been great than he/she will continue to be great, regardless. The message is no longer the image but who took the image. And we take one more step away from reality.

Exposing photojournalism images on a museum wall, a growing trend, accentuate this trend. Prolonging a photographs existence beyond its natural life and support is only beneficial to the photographer, not the photograph. Ripping it out of natural habitat, magazine pages or websites, is denying a huge part of what it makes it exceptional, its temporality. Its denying its direct link to a very specific event and giving it a status of art piece. A stand alone. To the pure benefit of the photographer and not the event it was initially supposed to reflect.

There is no arguing that some photographers are just plain better and more talented than others. Their photographs are a thousand time better than anyone around, at the same place and at the same time. But that should be a trade secret, an industry knowledge. It should never appear to the public. It should remain anonymous for the rest of us. For the sake of photography and the message itself.

Author: pmelcher

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