Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Ed Kashi - In The Thick Of It All
Amidst a revolution in the fundamental nature of photojournalism, Ed Kashi stands as the quintessential next-generation storyteller
Rising Above The Din
As far as Kashi is concerned, “Absolutely. But I'm concerned that this new technology, as it develops, is rewiring the human brain, especially the kids of today's generation. They don't know any different and don't realize what's happening to them. I'm concerned that this new generation will have an inability to absorb still photography in the way it's meant to be absorbed. At the same time, I also feel that there's something universal about still photography in that it acts on the human brain in a way like no other medium does because it forces you to stop and pay attention, to think. It's meditative, especially in comparison to the 24/7 cacophony of moving imagery and sound. It's all very seductive and exciting.
“I still think that we're a long way off from still photography being a medium that people will lose interest in. The way that I'm working now, I'm trying to integrate still photography into some of these new mediums, not only as a way to keep it alive, but also to use it in a more effective manner to make an impact on people, to make a difference, to teach them, to illuminate them, to even piss them off sometimes.”
It's the warm and open embrace of digital acquisition and distribution tools, along with the use of mixed media, that helps a traditional photojournalist become a next-generation photojournalist. Yet problems remain.
“There's a huge struggle in the world of photojournalism about this,” Kashi explains. “There's a class of young 20-something photojournalists who, in spite of all of these interesting new tools, still just want to be photographers and take pictures. And they're realizing that there aren't a lot of new opportunities. I'm heartened to see this, that young photographers just want to be photographers. That's important and they must be listened to. But they must also look at the current landscape realistically and understand the implications of what's happening to our profession.”
And what of those who are established? “There are mid-career photojournalists like myself who have reached the top of their profession and could just as easily become a dinosaur tomorrow if they don't adapt,” warns Kashi. “Even though I've established a great reputation, I could fall off the face of the Earth if I'm not careful. Except for the National Geographic, who wants to publish serious, nonfiction photojournalism? The New York Times Sunday Magazine rarely, if ever, publishes serious reportage photography anymore. There are European publications that publish serious photography, but they don't really pay a living wage.”
Aside from the disruptions to the analog models of image creation and distribution, there's a far greater problem affecting photojournalism: corporate conglomeration. Most major news organizations are now owned by corporate parents whose focus is on the bottom line. News no longer generates as much revenue as lifestyle and infotainment. And that's having a powerful effect on photojournalism.
“The media is being fundamentally reconstructed through corporate conglomeration, and this trend is having its effect on photojournalism because the companies can dictate what's news,” says Kashi. “Such a trend toward infotainment is a huge problem for photojournalism and, more importantly, is detrimental to our democracy. That's the bigger concern. I can always survive by adapting to become what Dirck Halstead [publisher of The Digital Journalist, www.digitaljournalist.org] calls ‘a platypus'—shoot video and stills and collect audio. However, if we don't have independent voices telling us what's going on, our democracy will fail and none of this will matter.”
On Using The Tools
Kashi's adoption and application of digital tools has helped him in many ways to become a more accomplished photojournalist. “I've worked with Canon cameras for over 30 years,” he says, “as well as Leicas, and now I work with the 5D, which is an excellent camera. I only shoot digital, in the RAW format. I haven't shot film in over three years. I love the image quality and the immediate feedback that digital gives me. I'm playing more and having more fun with my photography than I ever have. I'm trying things I didn't used to try. I'm shooting more loosely and fluidly, and the back end is incredible. It has made me a better journalist, and it has increased the control over my authorship by being able to immediately insert captions, keywords and all the other metadata.”
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