Monday, 19 July 2010

Changing role of the photojournalist

After reading a thread on the OCA forum referring to this interview with war photographer Tim Hetherington, I have jotted a few thoughts down here. This particular quote sums up what faces the photojournalist of our time.
The problem isn’t that we haven’t taken that classic image. The problem is that we have taken too many. Joao Silva
With the advent of digital photography, everyone is now a photographer.  How can the professional make their contribution more valued than the 'citizen journalist' as Hetherington defines it. Hetherington's response to the question do you consider yourself a photographer;
If you are interested in mass communication, then you have to stop thinking of yourself as a photographer. We live in a post-photographic world. If you are interested in photography, then you are interested in something — in terms of mass communication — that is past. I am interested in reaching as many people as possible.
It is a fascinating train of thought. What is the role of a photo-journalist? Hetherington seems to be implying that more important than the photograph itself is the way in which one communicates the message to as many people as possible by what ever medium available. Moving from niche to mass market and specialist to generic. The photographer making a photo and recording a moment would in addition encompass the wider issues of the communication cycle, marketing and producing commercially marketable products. I can see the value in this but it does alter the role of photographers substantially. 

The photojournalist's role is perhaps reluctantly evolving through necessity. To survive, are existing professionals having to seek new ways to give them the edge and evolve their role back in to relevance? 

Hetherington says;
I used to develop black-and-white pictures and that’s what photography is. That kind of old-fashioned thinking is just for an art gallery now....As we increasingly have technology that wants us to shoot moving pictures and contextualize with sound, we need to understand the difference. Why am I making a still picture? Why am I making a moving picture?
I think all photo-journalists need to be considering this as it will be exacerbated further as technological advances push newsprint in to the realms of animated and moving pictures. What will happen when video technology is of the quality that 'screen grabs' can be used as still images?  Will demand for the still image and subsequently the photographer disappear?

I suspect the emphasis might change but there will always be a need for both and the same high level of photojournalistic skills will be required even if the medium used changes.

On a personal level, I probably need to consider the role of video technology and whether it is something I would want to pursue myself in future.  And also who the end-user of my images might be and whether still images is infact the best medium. To have a keen eye on the audience is something I have neglected up until now but need to tentatively bear in mind going forward.

Slight diversion from the above but relevant links below in relation to the ethics discussion and the role of the photographer and humanitarian organisations on

Photographers working for NGOs
What does it take for nonprofits to use photography effectively
When transparency and humanitarian aid clash

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