We have lost our love of the story. We are no longer telling interesting stories. In fact it could be argued that photojournalism today is basically middle class voyuerism. It carries with it the stifling and infantile morality of a middle brow suburban family and attempts to deliver ‘shock’ stories to titilate them into watching. Or it just reduces to historical and charter-tour cliches stories that could be rich, complex and eye-opening.
Just look at National Geographic – if its Iran, its Persipolis. if its Bolivia, its the Antiplano. if its Pakistan, its the Taliban. Tiresome, boring, repetitive, predictable, uncreative, uninteresting stories about some of the most interesting and evolving countries in the world! Even the formulas and mechanics of photojournalism are boring and predictable. This magazine refuses to go and explore places in new ways, to produce angles that are creative and interesting, and that challenge our thining and ideas about a place. Is Persipolis really all that one has to stay about Iran today? This incredibly complex and incredibly interesting country is left silenced!
The Missouri School beliefs are so old and hollowed that they produce not more than what i call comic book photojournalism. By the way, I was at the MPW in 2002 so i have seen this personally. Look at the recent multimedia piece that MediaStorm did called ‘Common Ground’ – this is so trite, so simplistic, as to be boring and predictable from frame #1. Family packing, family walking to car, family hugging – its like a linear story book, with pictures that attempt to create nothing interesting, to provoke no thought or make any argument. Its is a join-by-numbers photography, which after a while, the viewer can start to complete herself!! The picture illustrate the obvious!
Someone once said that Bertold Becht’s work was never about pathos or emotions, but always about the need to provoke though and make an argument. That is a good comment about the state of photojournalism.
And keeping true to the argument for the need for the particular; photography has been growing in areas that we have not been paying attention to. More photo books are being published and bought, more workshops are being held, more people are broadening their repertoire of works and finding creative ways of funding their projects. That is, the changes being bought about today are in fact creating some powerfully interesting responses.
Not the least of which is – people are starting to tell new stories in new ways. And i do not mean multimedia here – multimedia is merely a mechanism that can never hide the banality or predictability of a subject. It is a means to an end, but if the end if poor, no amount of flash and dash will save anything.
We have to remember that it is newspapers that are turning increasingly to amateurs. It is not a ‘rise’ of the amateur. The amateur picture has been found to be mostly free, easily found, and little paid for. This is its reasons for popularity. There is no such thing as ‘an army of amateurs’ – these are rhetorical constructs that have no meaning. What there is in fact is an ‘army of photo editors with no money and personal careers to save’ who have desperately tried to hide the fact of their economic and editorial castration by distracting us with false arguments of ‘citizen’ journalism, an euphemism for ‘cheap’.
Our only hope (i speak of editorial photographers, photojournalists etc. and not of fashion, commercial and other photographers who by the way are doing just great what with all the increase in advertising as a business) is to accept the challenge of the reliance on the amateur work to produce work that could only be done so by a professional. of course multimedia will be an important part of this – it is a tool of course – and allow us to tell great stories in new ways, but i personally believe that the challenge we face is the need to tell new stories, better stories, from new angles and to overcome our class, nationalistic, religious and other prejudices to find broader and more engaged human experiences to share.
Now, I am not so naive to believe that the latter recommendation will change the state of photojournalism and its economics. Far from it. What I do believe is that by broadening, extending our ideas of what photojournalism is about, it will allow us to free ourselves from the constraining mediocrity of the typical photojournalism end game i.e. publication in a magazine like Time or Newsweek. Too much of what passes for photojournalism is done with the belief, mostly hidden, that the customer is the magazine editor, that the structure is the linearity that is necessitated by the printed page. Photojournalists and news photographers shoot for a sheet of paper. Their universe of individuals and characters is restricted mostly to editors, writers, photo editors, their assistants, other photographers and hangers-on. 99% of photojournalism magazines, festivals, competitions and such caters to itself. It is one of the more closed artistic/non-industrial crafts in world. Our language, our references, our aethetics, or ideas of what is ‘photojournalism’ and what is not is so limited, has change so little in the last 50 years, and has such little relevance or interest outside of its own community, that we have stagnated. Visa Pour L’image or Look3 may as well be a gathering of astro-turf salesmen. There will always be a few curious outsiders, but they are not really that important to the event, nor are they engaged to carry something away from them. (Continued…)