DPP Home Profiles Jeffrey Aaronson - Here, There And Everywhere

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jeffrey Aaronson - Here, There And Everywhere

As a photojournalist, Jeffrey Aaronson is called upon to do everything—from formal portraits of newsmakers to elaborate photo essays—all across the world

“If I see a moment with that quintessential shot happening, I grab it,” says Aaronson. “But if I can, I prefer to move in and really get to know the people—let them get used to me instead of just shooting. I give people a chance to get over the novelty of having a foreigner in their world. Eventually what happens is that they get bored with me and they go about what they're doing. Once I'm forgotten, I can start taking the pictures. I also try to respect the people I'm photographing. I've always been interested in people and what they do, and I think that gives me a certain respect for them, which comes through in the photographs. They know I'm not there to capture a novelty image; I'm there because I'm interested and I'm respectful.”

The art of photojournalism lies in the ability to tell a story to which people can relate, one that brings the viewer into the life of the subject, at least for a moment. In large measure, we've been conditioned by the media to think of “real news photography” as needing a money shot—the one that has the in-your-face blood and tears. Perhaps it's a result of modern society's frenetic pace that draws us to these images to the exclusion of more contemplative imagery.

Says Aaronson, “I don't avoid these kinds of shots. I've seen and documented the good, the bad and the horrific. However, I'm much more drawn to the good in the world. Those images of the horrific represent a small fraction of how we all live. Even as horrible things are happening, babies are being born, weddings are being planned—I just prefer to photograph the good things that occur in this world. I prefer to tell the broad story. I create narratives and stories that show the full context.”

Aaronson is a master of photographic storytelling. In particular, he regularly has explored life and cultures in Asia. “I became known as an Asia expert by chance,” says Aaronson. “I did a trip to China when it had really just opened. When my pictures got published, I found that I was labeled a China expert and I started getting assignments for Asia.

“I love traveling in Asia because I'm so completely ungrounded there. I look different. The religions are different, the food is different. It's all so intriguing to me, being in such a different place. It also changes my perspective because when I've worked in Asia for a period of time and I come back to the States, I find that the U.S. looks strange to me, too. Suddenly, Anytown USA seems exotic.”

Whenever a journalist like Aaronson migrates to digital technology, there's a tendency for some people who may not fully understand the technology to eye the images with considerable suspicion. The words “digital imaging” together with “photojournalism” seem to raise eyebrows. The perception that digital photographs can be made to mislead is rampant, just as there's a tendency to see traditional film images as somehow pure. Perceptions are wrong. A digital image can be completely unmodified, and film images could be heavily manipulated, even before the era of computers.

“I don't think I bring any of the baggage of faked digital images with me,” Aaronson says. “I have a reputation for telling a balanced and honest story and that's the most important thing. When you have that reputation for integrity, your photographs don't get questioned.

“Biases run throughout the gamut of media, but people are more attuned to them in photography,” he adds. “Editors make photo selections, writers choose which quotations to use—it's all editing and manipulation. All you can do is try to have integrity.”


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