In this very recent article, David Campbell critic and theorist of visual storytelling discussed about “Syria and the power of images”. Here is where I want to begin a fragmented path towards the quest to discover “why photojournalism still matters?”
There is one certainty, from the part of the consumers of news, media, journalism, photography, there is no lack of audience. That is one big point where to depart from. On another hand, the publications that are distributing the information are not wiling to pay like in the past to produce and to receive the work of professional photojournalists. I have just finished my degree in Press and editorial Photography at Falmouth University. Throughout our university course the problem of a lack of funds or certainly for the profession of photojournalism, has been discussed in depth. For this reason half way through my degree a radical change has been made to adapt to the changing market, with the introduction as tutor and award leader of a key figure in the world of photojournalism who has specialised in the production of multimedia, but the use of multimedia is another side yet of the discussion.
A revealing article related to the issue of the relationship between photographer and publication is written by a female Italian photojournalist reporting from Syria where she expresses her frustration in front of narrow minded editors which have the power to reject or support what they “feed” to their audiences, and perhaps this is key to understand the dynamics of the above mentioned relationship, where the subject on one hand and the audience on another might be unaware of this.
It is important to realise the pressure photojournalists can work under and what lies behind the images that become iconic representations of a certain story. The politics of editorial rules dictate how the audience perceive a given story. That is one of the crucial points in the profession of a photojournalist when it has the work presented to a wider audience. In this respect Fred Ritchin, - a professor of Photography and Imaging at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and co-director of the NYU/Magnum Foundation Photography and Human Rights educational program-commented about the future of photojournalism in the digital era saying that it is not enough to “add pictures to the world but we have to somehow add the world to the photographs”. This brings us to an argument about how to demystify the messages that images carry within them to the audience in a clear, comprehensive and informative way.
As Francesca Borri mentions in her article about the state of the publications saying: “Readers are still there, and contrary to what many editors believe, they are bright readers who ask for simplicity without simplification. They want to understand, not simply to know.” And Fred Ritchin argues that this is in the power of the digital era, to accommodate the existence of complexity in narrative imagery through the use of the pixels, which contain the metadata, information and that is what distinguishes photojournalism from other genres.
The question remains how can professionals make a living through their investment of time in work of research and creation of material. Here, the possibility of a media revolution can begin in the above mentioned relationship; audience-publication-photographer-subject, where all the ties have to be restored to a degree of mutual respect, support, trust and empathy for it to survive in the present era. In addition to these questions there comes a commentary by the lead figures in photojournalism, Jon Levy, founder of Foto8, who is a tireless critic and distributor of photojournalism that matters. The points he raised in the attached article are fundamental and necessarily provocative to understanding why photojournalism matters and the professionals have to prove dedication, and adaptability to the flow of events.
Is the readership is still keen to support publications as long as they provide quality content? Can on-line publications adapt to these requirements?
And create a faithful readership by making use of the by making good use of the professional role of the photojournalist which can express through the range of digital tools the various pieces of information that form the integral picture of a story supported by the engagement of the subject of the story with truthful accounts of facts and feelings that arise from the complex issues that surround certain topics. In addition to that, the collaboration can be encouraged between professionals within the context of the publication to bring to the public the most qualitative account of a subject matter.
I’d like to return now to the point of photojournalism not being about conflict only, there are myriads of stories that can be covered in our close vicinity, as Jon Levy mentioned in his “nineteenlog’, there aren’t enough stories about local issues about people having to go to food banks, sleep on the streets or make a hopeless journey to a jobcentre. It seems the stories of foreign countries with their suffering and blood-shed make “good pictures” and that is the dark side of photojournalism. This is the egotistical and mindless pursuit of individual fame and acknowledgement to its own end. Photojournalism matters now more than ever at home, the neighbourhood, the town a photographer lives. From an economic perspective that cuts down drastically on travel expenses which are probably the second biggest expense after the kit for the profession. Being local is where meaningful change can happen into the layers of society, where power can be undermined and community strengthened, that is when I believe in photojournalism. Photojournalism has to be sociable, sustainable and significant. There are always stories to be told, and if the audience is in direct contact with them, it is more likely that there will be an investment to support them. And the photojournalist can strengthen its profession by creating more intelligent imagery, and material which can be compelling, fascinating, informative, and thought-provoking, and not sensationalist and shallow. There is the need of photojournalist with the dedication to invent new visual language for stories that are hard to be photographed: unemployment, mental illness, social injustice, that stay away from the consolidated stereotypes and shed new light of these crucial issues for our society. Returning to the question at whose expense is the story being told, for me it has to be the wrongdoers, the corrupt and bad policies-makers.
That is what I wish for the future.
And I have seen it happening with the brilliant photographer Jim Mortram who is a exemplar storyteller in his hometown, East Derenham, Norfolk.
His stories have started self-funded with borrowed kit, and have now grown with crowd-funding donations as Jim is a full-time carer in his family home too, he has reached the media, he has created his own path and received recognition for it with an also outstanding capacity of raising more than £3500 pounds for charity towards the people who has photographed or stories he has told, all through the use of social media and his immense passion and dedication.
The main fact is, as my most inspiring tutor says:
“IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STORY”
And there is room for no doubt about it.