(Continued)…Photojournalists will have to liberate their minds from these constraints – the weekly magazine editor looking for the ‘sensational’, and the printed page looking for the simplistic, to go after stories that are beyond news, beyond crisis, beyond the sensational and concentrate instead on the creative and the excitingly compelling. Too many pander in the obvious. Too many are purveyors of cliches. I see so many photographers on your blog who continue to represent the world through the false exotic. Steve McCurry too, with his recent work on Buddhists, carefully eradicated any evidence of the presence of the Han Chinese and the oppression of the Tibetans by the Chinese administration. Instead, we received an idealized, fossilized, pre-18th century vision of the place. Everything that would suggest our engagement with the current dilemmas facing Buddhism, Tibet etc. were just not there. Cliches, false exotics. They may have technique and such, but they lack story telling creativity and often just plain curiousity that could reveal new ideas and new ways of telling. Furthermore, they have to stop ‘documenting’ the obvious that is in front of them. For I am not talking about story telling as a method to layout photographs. I mean the very ideas themselves – the issues and the subjects that are pursued, need to take a leap forward.
We have seen these changes in art, in literature, in poetry and such. Yet, photojournalists young and old seem trapped in conventions, and prejudices. they are offering variations to the same most of the time, rarely if ever a creative leap.
Why is this story idea shift important? Because it will allow us to engage a new community of people and work with groups, institutions, individuals and organizations far beyond that which we have so far. Not that this is new, but it has to become a standard. Photojournalism and photography schools are failing at this miserably. Places like ICP produce hacks mostly, machine-tool photographers, me-too documentarians pushing out and working within structures of conformity. Worse, they are never trained or educated to understand that there are markets outside of the editorial space. Even I do not know this market, but I know that it is there. It is more a matter of positioning yourself beyond the technicalities of photo making.
Ernesto Bazan, a photographer i believe you should feature on your site, has taken a very individual path to photography and such. Workshops, his own publishing book, engaging students, a personal vision, a passion for the craft, a willingness to work in many different arenas, a talent to engage a wide range of people beyond the photo editor and the weekly magazine. His career is a testament to the incredible opportunities available to professionals and creatives. If you look at his work, his passion, you would not think that things are falling apart. Rather, that there are more ways today to be a professional photographer and photojournalist than ever before! That the old standards, the old outlets, are not necessary if you are creative, driven and intelligent enough to articulate to others.
So Anderson lamenting the decline of editorial sales is not related to the rise of amateurs. The amateurs are in fact not competing with the professionals. Again it is not as if they are a competitive alternative. But, that editors are choosing to do away with a requirement of quality and rigor in order to save cash. And why would i say that? Because where publications have the funds, they choose to work with the professionals consistently. Look at the New York Times Sunday Magazine – Kathy Ryan still have the budget, and she works with the best she can find. Until her budget is cut, and then things will change. But she is not trawling Flickr. But the news pages maybe, Time magazine is, but then again Time and Newsweek have lost their vision, their raison d’etre so to speak and since they are now mostly run by MBA hacks, there isn’t a soul there that can understand how these magazines need to change. MBAs work with formula’s and strategies driven by an obsessive slavery to ‘customer preferences’. This is one of the great falacies of our time. Where customer preference is important, so too is creativity and offering an interesting product. Something Apple understands, or peer-to-peer designers do too (ok, poor analogies, i admit ) Our newspapers are run and controlled by people who see news as just a product, apply MBA tools and spreadsheets to ‘improve sales’, assume that if you pander to the infantile and the consumerist, sales will increase.
And yet, The Economist goes from strength to strength, and Time/Newsweek are weaker than ever before. The Economist offers nothing fancy, merely pretentious high brow and often complicated and engaging news. They too are a public magazine and yet have found a segment to grow and expand. Newsweek is pandering to the useless and the empty for example.
These rends more than technology is what has displaced hard news stories and hard documentary journalism.
Our industry, photojournalists, do not want to face the realities. Newspapermen/women do not want to admit their limitations. It is easier to suggest, sexier and commercially more lucrative for many companies, to suggest that what we are facing is a tectonic shift in technologies of use. This sounds like the internet bubble when the store front was to disappear and the internet to win all. Well, guess what? That did not happen, the sky did not fall, brick and mortar companies in fact won that battle by adjusting and become smarter about the dual store front strategy and outlasted and out foxed most all the badly designed and poorly managed internet only firms. Today, a new generation of internet firms have a solid real world foot print e.g. Amazon, which maintains of the largest and most sophisticated warehousing and warehouse management systems in the world. The future is an amalgamation. (Continued…)