Photojournalism as Art

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by darin3200, Aug 25, 2005.

  1. darin3200

    darin3200 TPF Noob!

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    Although I think Sontag's "On Photography" trashes photojournalism a little too much, I came across an interesting passage that perfectly articulated my concerns about photojournalism.
    I have looked through a lot photography books, many of which were war and conflict photography. I was stunned by the lack of captions on most. Many books had brief captions tucked away in an index in the back of the book that weren't displayed with the pictures. All that is presented is a scence of destruction or conflict with no other information. This is contrary to the claims of war photographers when they say their pictures can make some positive difference in the world. What difference can isolated photographers with no references, no information provide? I went VIIphoto.com and looked through the essays. One of the essays was on Chechnya by Christopher Morris, the main caption for all the pictures is
    All the other captions for specific photos were also short and uniformative. 3 or maybe 4 sentences basically saying that there is a war, and he can't describe it. Then why bother? Why take these pictures if you can't even describe the place? What differences are you're pictures going to make? It seems that this type of photography is no different than photography done for artistic purposes with a lot of novelity and humanist cover.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. deb

    deb TPF Noob!

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    When fear, desperation, destruction, destitution and various other emotions or conditions are reduced to images which communicate the ghastly situations on earth, then photojournalism gives us the means (although not necessarily the ability) to empathize with people and to some extent comprehend the tragedy that is called humanism.

    You can tell me that children are starving in Africa, and I can hear and comprehend. You cannot show me the sad eyes of a malnourished child without my feeling some range of emotions about the circumstances of that child and others like him.

    You can tell me it's raining missiles in the middle east, and I can put that idea into a visual context based on my own experiences. That image I create in my mind will no doubt fall short of the destruction, death and cost of war that can be communicated in a photograph because my experiences don't include those things.

    You can tell me that someone just bombed the federal building in Oklahoma, and that children were killed and injured. Until I see that shot of the limp child being carried by the fireman, I may not cry.

    The value of photojournalism isn't in what information it conveys, prose will suffice for facts and figures. The value of photojournalism is in what it makes me feel, emotions I may not feel for the tragic situations others find themselves in until I can see the pain.

    On a lighter note, photojournalism can allow me to see the happiness, accomplishments and good times experienced by others.
     
  3. danalec99

    danalec99 TPF Noob!

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    I have just started 'On Photography'. :thumbup:
    I cannot talk anything about that, yet.

    But...
    I must agree with deb's views here.

    Why would you want C Morris to describe the place when you can actually *see* it for yourself? Isn't that the photojournalist's intention in the first place? I can however see your point. You were looking for more words besides the images.

    Interesting observation with regard to novelty and the humanist cover :thumbup:. I can understand that 'compassion' may not be the only reason which moves a photojournalist but the intention would not be purely 'artistic' either.
    Then again would you want photojournalists to be snapshooters? :)

    Nachtwey and Salgado covered Africa. I drool over some of their works. But it is only the photographers who gets turned on with the excellent composition and the 'eye' in the images. The rest of the world send in the checks when they see the images. That was their intention.

    This is one of my favourite Salgado quote -
    I don't want anyone to appreciate the light or the palette of tones. I want my pictures to inform, to provoke discussion and to raise money. -Sebastiao Salgado, "Collector's edition of Life, the Eisie Issue " . Spring 1998, page: 160


    Nice thread, by the way! :)
     
  4. darin3200

    darin3200 TPF Noob!

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    deb, I agree that putting a face on an issue or bringing some sort of visually representation a subject is important. When Jacob Riis did his work in the slums of New York drawing of his photographs were published because the papers couldn't publish pictures back then. The result was that no one really cared, but when he brough actual photos into a city council meeting people were shocked and things started to change. This of course started discussion and change and many great things, but I don't think we so much of that anymore. Yet how much connection can we have with an anonymous starving person somewhere in Africa, the pictures seem to lose their power without additional info because of the their univseral nature.
    Riis picture talked about

    danalec99, page 112 :)
    An interesting thought...on one hand people who just took snapshots wouldn't be concerned with composition, lighting, etc.. and would only care about recording the information, not something that also looked good, and might also produce more objective images. On the other hand the artistic nature of the photos from non-snapshoters might help draw attention to the images.

    Indeed, I find Nachtwey's "Deeds of War" to be much more raw, partially due to the shooting style, but also the color film. "Inferno" on the other hand, well, it was one of the things that got me thinking about this. I mean, most of those b&w pictures are art in their own sense without an photojournalistic obligations. They could be hung alone on a wall and people wouldn't care, the pictures are definately drool-able :drool:. But I would also have to go back into the index to see what was going on, sometimes it took away from the pictures, but other times it added immensly to their intended effect. It might also be the very nature of many of the photographers, Nachtwey minored in art history at dartmouth so mabye its just his nature to care about how the photo will look.

    Thanks for the responses, it definately got me thinking and questioning my own views :thumbup:
     
  5. danalec99

    danalec99 TPF Noob!

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    which is the aim of photojournalism.
    But a well laid out photograph is always pleasing, be it pj or any branch of photography.
     
  6. craig

    craig TPF Noob!

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    Consider that photojournalism has a much broader scope then the words of Ms. Sontag and images from James Nachtwey.

    The thread seems to be about the portrayal of war and poverty. Sontag's thoughts on war were always a little too cerebral for me. She also did an essay on the images from Abu Gahrib prison that you will be interested in.

    My thoughts are that photojournalism is art. Obviously different than painting or multi media installations. The genre's beauty lies in it's ability to express reality. The photojournalist will sum up good friends and food at the annual chicken fry in one shot. Certainly this is only a feeling of what was going on that day, but the artist's eye can bring it to life.

    Moving on to images of war and poverty (or whatever) we find out that the subject takes on a stronger value than it's technical merits.
     
  7. 'Daniel'

    'Daniel' TPF Noob!

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    Indeed, If we just saw snapshots of places where certain hardship sthat have been deemed new worthy are happening the the response or emotions evoked would not be as strong.

    Generally I think that for newspapers the information is in the text and the pictures are there for people who don't read the stories and are impacted more by news. Reading an article takes longer than looking at a picture, you take more time thinking about it. Where as a photograph has to hard hitting becase a viewer may only glance or give it a few seconds look.

    I think that usually they need to be "artistically" compositioned but I don't think this loses there integrity. It just chages their use.

    The text is where the recording of information is, pictures are to add flavour and to show you how bad it is not leaving anything to the imagination.
     
  8. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    Art is about interpreting reality.
    Photojournalism is about depicting reality.
    Do not confuse 'Art' with something that is 'visually pleasing'. It is possible to create something functional and that is visually pleasing without it being Art.
    If Photojournalism ever becomes Art then it ceases to be Photojournalism.

    As for Sontag - her skill lay in making people think about things that they normally wouldn't think about (and in using lots of big words to do it) rather than producing the answers. And most of her views display serious middle-class preconceptions and bias (as well as some ignorance).
    You get most mileage from working out why her ideas aren't quite right.
     
  9. Marctwo

    Marctwo TPF Noob!

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    Photojournalism shows a situation as interpreted by the photojournalist. This is not just taking a shot of something real.

    You may take a picture of someone holding a gun to a man's head. Someone else may take the same picture but show that the man is holding a knife to a child. Both pictures depict reality but interpret the situation differently.
     
  10. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    Both still depict what is actually there. You are talking about selective viewpoint and contextualisation. That's editing reality not interpreting it.
    The 'interpretation' in both cases is made by the viewer based on the information provided. The viewer's interpretation of the image may well be manipulated by the photographer, but the photographer does not interpret reality to produce the image.
     
  11. Marctwo

    Marctwo TPF Noob!

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    I gave a very simplistic eg as most situations that the photojournalist will have to interpret involve metaphorical guns and knives. The full facts of a situation are rarely visible.
     
  12. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    Simple or complex, a photograph can only depict what is in front of the lens - it cannot interpret it, or show things that are not visible. Photographs can only deal with that which has a physical presence.
    Interpretation requires giving the image meaning by referencing it to knowledge and experience. In effect you are bringing into the image things that are not actually there. A photograph does not have a meaning until we project one onto it. This is why everyone sees images differently - and why we don't all like the same things.
    Your argument raises the question 'what is the role of the photojournalist?'
    Is it to show a particular point of view? In which case the viewer is directed towards a particular interpretation. This is the foundation of propoganda.
    Or is it to do with showing the truth - as nearly as is possible, or however unpalateable that truth is?
    I have known many journalists over the years and I know of none who would say they have tried to do anything save the latter. They are fully aware of 'bias' and 'misinterpretation' and strive to avoid doing it.
    They tend to feel insulted if you suggest that they are 'interpreting' the truth in some way, rather than trying to be objective.
     

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