Have you ever thought of a camera as a time machine or this printer of truth? Have you ever thought of pictures as this world of frozen time or this document of the printed truth? If a camera has the power to produce such powerful photographs, how much more will a passionate photojournalist be able to boost that capacity when put in charge of these devices? With photojournalism, we can see, read, and learn the story. As much as it gives the public a lot, it requires tremendous work as well.
For one of my English classes, my professor assigned us to read a book written by a well-known photojournalist, Lynsey Addario. One of the class discussions we had involved picking a picture from the book that resonated with us and then answering a few questions on a sheet that my professor passed out. I picked a picture that was taken a few feet away from a group of male protesters marching with guns. One of the questions asked, “Who took the picture?” At first, I thought this was some kind of trick question. A photojournalist authored the book, so obviously she would’ve taken it. I wrote “Lynsey Addario” at first and then crossed it out, studied the picture again, wrote “photojournalist”, studied it a third time, and then finally wrote, “local observer”. I turned out to be wrong and the photo was taken by Addario herself. It was difficult to imagine a journalist with a camera randomly snapping a picture of the war zone and chaos, and it was even harder to picture wanting to ever be in that type of environment. It is this type of courage and passion that is instilled in photojournalists like Lynsey Addario or James Foley that move them to do their jobs.
Modern technology presents us with this open end of opportunities to capturing photos and publishing a story. In a society like today where cameras are conveniently available to everyone, the field of photojournalism may tend to lose its genuine purpose. When you’ve been into photojournalism for quite awhile, like Donald Winslow, you easily recognize this change. In an interview published by the New York Times, Winslow emphasizes his concern of how photojournalism has evolved into a devalued profession and how companies are drawn to photographs that are most affordable, while employees/photojournalists want a job that can pay their bills. Winslow sees photojournalism as this prestigious occupation that involves being present in the moment, capturing the event and writing about it with passion and hard work. Today, he sees photojournalism slowly losing its significance. He may be right however, I do think photojournalism still has a chance of flourishing, despite the convenience of modern technology and how media businesses tend to search for sources. It really depends on how we choose to define photojournalism.
If there’s one thing I learned from the many social media accounts I have is that you have the freedom to share, write, and post anything. You can simply snap a picture of the golden sunset or the emotive image of the hungry children in Africa and write about it in a Facebook post or blog. Is this photojournalism? In some way it actually is. With modern technology and the goal of news businesses, photojournalism may shift from what was once a sought-after profession to a form of self-expression. However, the purpose of publishing stories and pictures and the intent of its authors are what create the difference in photojournalism. I would snap a picture with a random person at a homeless shelter and post about how I spent my weekend volunteering to helping the disadvantaged people of Omaha. I’d upload it to Facebook and share it with my friends because my goal would be for others to know how morally engaged I am with my community. For photojournalists, snapping a photo and writing a story is different. The photo doesn’t simply capture what looks pretty and the stories aren’t mere captions that exaggerate the event. Photojournalists have that instilled courage to be caught within the chaos and actually suffer with the people who experience it, along with that passion of writing their stories with the genuine purpose of connecting them with the rest of the world. This is what makes photojournalism unique.
It really depends on whether you’re taking on the job to pay your bills or save your company money, or writing as a photojournalist who wants to give the world both that visual representation and the stories of what is happening in the places that people don’t have the courage to visit. Today, news sites wrestle with issues of credibility and unreliable sources. We need photojournalism more than ever and people like James Foley or Lynsey Addario who have the dedication to personally experience the reality of events and teach the world about it. Photos project the raw truth. The stories that accompany these photos caption the vivid details and the rest of the entire 360° that the dimensions of a photo alone can’t capture or describe. Photojournalists have the capacity of weaving both devices into something more powerful. Photojournalism isn’t easy, so why should we expect it to be affordable?