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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Under Fire

In an era of “cell phone” photojournalism, does the professional photographer still have a role?


This Article Features Photo Zoom

After launching an assault in May 2009 to counter Taliban attacks in Swat Valley, soldiers in the Pakistani Army patrol security checkpoints in Mingora, Pakistan, December 4, 2009. Soldiers in this unit are based in Punjab, where a majority of officers and soldiers are from, though the Pakistani Army is made up of people from all of Pakistan's provinces.
While it's easy to be highly critical of the new influx of amateurs to the field, it's also worth noting that it was actually bloggers who first uncovered many of the photographic controversies of the 2006 Lebanon War. In fact, it was traditional media that published the images in most cases, and the photojournalists and editors involved were practicing their craft for many years. On one side, you have a public that's hungry for sensationalism and a media that's interested in selling the most newspapers and getting the most clicks. On the other side, you have intense competition from other photojournalists who are trying to sell as many images as possible and less and less oversight from editors as the Internet proliferates. Still, none of these moral quandaries is new, none of them has clear answers, and they're not specific to a digital environment.

The Good News
Everything isn't doom and gloom, however. There are also more opportunities to present uncensored work to a bigger audience than ever before. Photojournalists can use social media to their advantage just as citizen photojournalists, and with the addition of video and audio in cameras and the mixed-media capabilities of the web, out of adversity will come even more opportunity. Charlie Cole, a photojournalist responsible for one of the images in the famous 1989 Tank Man series from Tiananmen Square, had to keep his roll of film hidden from authorities in a Beijing toilet before he was able to send it to Newsweek. Now you can upload images to secure locations and editors while they're still being taken.
 
In photography, what separates the amateur from the pro has always been the ability to tell a visual story, so the cream will rise in photojournalism as in any other field... Certainly, paradigms and technologies will change, but honesty and truth
should never fade.
 
There's also support in numbers. Founded in 1947, Magnum Photos was the first notable U.S. photojournalist-led cooperative, and it began a legacy of photojournalist-owned groups like VII Photo Agency and the Associated Press. Many other organizations and websites serve as support groups for photojournalists, as well, including the NPPA and Reporters Without Borders, which both offer insurance policies and other benefits to photojournalists.

Things change, especially in tech-driven occupations like photography, and it's likely cell phone photojournalists and citizen journalism will become as essential a piece of the puzzle of traditional media as photojournalists have been since the advent of the portable camera. In photography, what separates the amateur from the pro has always been the ability to tell a visual story, so the cream will rise in photojournalism as in any other field. Regardless, the news isn't going away. Certainly, paradigms and technologies will change, but honesty and truth should never fade.

 

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