Future Photojournalism

It seems that every week someone is proclaiming the death of photography, of photojournalism, of print media, of this or that. Frankly, I don't think any of it is true. I am sure that the way people photograph, the way information is gathered, distributed, consumed and analyised is changing at a pace more rapid than it has done in the past. This much is certain.

However, I am like many people in that I now get my information through various medium - I still buy and borrow and read books and magazines and newspapers, yet I also read and view a lot of articles and photographs on the internet. One has not superseded the other, rather supplement it.

Of course the digital age we now live in has changed the game massively. I should not need to spell out how or why, but rather than curse this new technology it should be our aim to utilise it and take advantage of it's benefits, while recognising it's shortcomings and seeing where it should not or need not be used.

Relating to photography, my digital camera has allowed me to do so many things; it has allowed me to work as a journalist, it has allowed me to send images around the globe almost immediately (with certain equipment it could be almost instantaneous - ask a sports photographer) and it has allowed me to take hundreds of photographs without pause (and occasionally without thought!). I think it is a wonderful tool. But.

I still prefer my old film cameras for certain things. For example, when I am just doing some street photography, I much prefer to use my old cameras loaded with black & white film. For some odd reason I just think and see differently when I have this equipment slung over my shoulder. I have a 4x5 which I enjoy struggling with to do portrait and landscape work as it forces a much slower and contemplative way of working. This is often detrimental when photographing an impatient subject but otherwise is a whole lot of fun. My medium format is a great all-rounder and one of my favourite cameras to use. What would I buy next if I could? Should I go for the new Nikon D700, a Leica M6 or an old Rolleiflex? All cameras I don't own and would love to have. Not than I can spare the cash for any of these but they would all certainly find themselves being used a lot, all for different reasons.

Perhaps though, I should go for a video camera. After all, 'multimedia' is the future right? And high resolution still images can be pulled from a lot of video. I have worked in TV post production and have often pulled images from TV adverts to be used by the agency in their print campaigns. News agencies have used film and video stills since the technology first became available so why is there a shudder among many photographers when video is brought up.

Perhaps it is because some feel threatened by the technology. Why? Film crews have been around for a hundred years and have worked alongside still photographers without much trouble in the past. Is it because today the video cameras are smaller, lighter and quicker; which means they are eating away at the advantage still photographers long enjoyed - that of mobility and discretion. Incidentally, Still cameras - digital - seem to be getting larger and more feature laden year by year.

Does this mean there will be no longer 'one man and his Leica' out in the field?

Photograph by Stanley Greene

Of course not. People will do that as long as they are able. Which I hope is a long long time.

Certainly though, it is a dilemma. However, I don't think the threat is as real as many proclaim. Personally I see the future as being one where each of these disciplines exist alongside each other - much as they have for decades - but it is the distribution and delivery of the information which will change. And it already has. I can go online and read a report, see the still images, watch some video and listen to audio, all on the same machine. Turn off the TV, put down the newspaper and retire the radio - the computer does it all. Soon I will be able to take my newspaper on the train in a digital format, and by that I don't mean reading it on a two inch screen on an iphone, I mean a flexible LCD screen I can fold and roll and don't have to squint at or scroll through.

It is the future of information delivery that will change. The future of information gathering is already here.

I think the main problem for photographers, videographers, sound recordists and reporters is one of which discipline to train in and use. They all require different skills but the technology is combining them into one device. The problem I find is that when you film, you don't think in stills, when you record sound, you can't concentrate on the image and when you write you are focusing on your memory. The demand these days is for one person to do it all, and for it to be done in a much smaller timeframe. With breaking news this is ridiculous. What they are asking for is a documentary film. It is too much to ask one person to do all of this at the same time. It is possible but I think it dilutes the quality - a jack-of-all-trades syndrome if you like.

Photograph by Marc Vallee

If I were sent to cover a situation in depth I would like to work in a small crew where someone gathers sound, someone photographs, someone films and someone writes the copy. Ideally each person would be able to switch into any of these roles as when required and an editor would be able to pick and choose what fits best at what time and when these can be combined. I don't want to go and photograph something with a camera, a video camera and a sound recorder hanging off me. Quite simply I don't have that many hands. Given the time to pursue something in depth I of course would welcome the opportunity to gather all these elements and put them together, however that requires a much longer timeframe and the depth and quality of the report should mirror that. If I am doing something on the spot I want to focus on one discipline so I can deliver that to the best of my ability.

In any case, the technology may one day allow me to do all these things to a high enough level to make this whole argument obselete but until I can plug my brain into a computer and download everything I saw and heard onto a hard drive, I think I will stick to one thing at a time please.

8 comments:

Stan B. said...

One sees and shoots differently for video- as opposed to stills, obviously. If high def video becomes the norm throughout photojournalism, then I don't see how the language and "artistry" of still photography that has evolved over the decades will not be affected (for the worse) with this sea change.

Marc Vallée said...

"We are photographers. This is a blog for the discussion of all things photography related. Please feel free to comment on anything you see here."

And what are you views on copyright? I see you have used one of my images with out asking! Or paying!

Tom White said...

Marc, In regard to copyright, I follow the legal guidelines that state fair usage - in that if I use something for the purposes of education, discussion and commentary - where that use is non-commercial - then I do not have to ask permission, or pay. As this blog is not in any way shape or form a money making exercise, then I am within my legal right to use copyrighted material. I try to provide copyright information and and state my sources wherever possible but if you object to me using the photograph that appears in this post then please let me know and I will remove it.

Hoffman said...

tom white said...
As this blog is not in any way shape or form a money making exercise, then I am within my legal right to use copyrighted material.

This is bollocks. White is simply making it up - or deluded. If he'll just invent facts to suit himself on this issue you can't really trust anything he writes.

David Hoffman

Sion Touhig said...

'Fair Use' is often used as an excuse for people to abuse both the letter and spirit of that particular statute.

One of several caveats of 'Fair Use' is whether the use of the work is proportional, and whether it affects the market value of the work - if a teacher uses a few lines of a poem for a class homework handout, or if a blog uses the front cover of a photo-book to talk about the images within, that would be Fair Use, particularly in the second case, as the blogger could argue that the photo-book would gain sales from the review without pirating the images within.

In this case, when stopping by your 'blog I see an exhibition catalogue for sale, linking to a Blurb.com digital preview of the book with a quite clear Copyright enforcement.

So I'd say the 'blog is acting commercially as it uses content as a pole of attraction for viewers who can be led to consider buying the book.

The book advert is a thumbnail, the book sales portal is a preview protected by specific copyright terms.

However, Marks image is the entire work, not a thumbnail or portion, and arguably of a similar size to what Mark could licence to a newspaper or magazine website - which forms an increasing (and much needed) alternative income stream for photojournalists as 'papers wither and are replaced by websites.

So your blog IS using unlicensed content to service a commercial purpose, IS potentially damaging Mark's income by using the entire work (not a portion) and IS quite happy to take steps to protect the copyright of a catalogue with YOUR images in...but isn't interested much in protecting Mark Vallee's copyright (and Stanley Greene's for that matter)

So IMHO, thats the letter of the law being abused, now we come to the spirit. I notice a credit and linkback has been provided (which is the bare minimum expected) but it would have been common courtesy to ask in advance before using the work, particularly when dealing with another professional photographer, as God knows, we could do with some solidarity around here.

Mark's image also has nothing to do with the issue being discussed. It's a Police surveillance photographer, not a multiskilled photojournalist - so arguably, its not contributing to education, commentary or education at all.

Jason Parkinson said...

"when you film, you don't think in stills."

From that comment, on your question of turning to video, I'd forget it.

If you can't think composition, movement and sound, all at the same time then you're wasting your time.Leave it to the experts.

On copyright, hell, charge this guy triple, purely for giving more nonsensicle arguments on acceptable non-authorised use than George Galloway's mob.

Peter Marshall said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use has a good discussion of fair use, which I think Tom needs to study in detail - it seems fairly clear that the use of Marc's picture cannot be justified in the context.

I first published a feature on the death of photojournalism in 2000. Where I think Tom's post falls down is that it seems to suggest that the future is up to photographers or consumers while the mass market is determined by the publishers.

As I found, it isn't enough to be successful. The commercial site I used to run had a healthy readership in the USA and across the world - including many well-known names in photography - and was making money for the publisher and an income for me by taking photography seriously. But the publisher wasn't satisfied as for every pro or serious collector there are thousands of people who just want to take pictures of their babies and pets - so I had to go.

Classic photojournalism will largely disappear because the market is going. People in general prefer bad video to good still photography.

As Chris Anderson says in his video (on the Magnum blog) people don't need photographers to tell the stories any more - so he doesn't like to be called a photojournalist. He's an "editorialist rather than as a reporter"

More and more Magnum is turning to fine art for income. At the moment there is a high end of newspapers and magazines publishing work like Anderson's but it is unlikely to last.

We are fortunate at the moment that we can use the web in a way that is largely without cost to publish our own work, but I don't believe it is likely to stay that way - sites like my own 'My London Diary' (http://mylondondiary.co.uk) are likely to become too expensive as the Internet becomes more commercial.

Tom White said...

I appreciate all the comments, but I stand by my claim that the images I use on this blog fall within the legal definition of 'Fair Use'. I understand that people's incomes can be hurt by unauthorised use of photography but I do not feel that is the case here. I have read the legal documents and I do not have to ask permission or provide payment within the boundaries defined by the law, in regard to the purposes of this blog, which as I state is for comment and discussion. I do sometimes ask permission, and to date have never been refused. I try to ask as often as possible but in this case I did not. I would happily remove any image if I was asked. In this case I was asked my opinion on copyright. Marc has not asked me to remove the image and if he were to do so - as he is well within his rights to do - I would comply immediately.

In regard to video and Jason's comment, I do leave it to the professionals. My point was about being asked to gather video, stills and audio as three separate disciplines. I respect Jason's work a great deal and that is why I will leave it to him to do what he is good at while I will stick to my own limitations.

Also, this post was about what a photographer might consider in how to train and work in the future. The market has not disappeared, and I believe that people care as much (or as little) as they ever did. The fact that advertisers have sway over publishers because they, in the main, provide the income is where the real problem lies. What sells more papers? The travel supplement and fashion pages or the report on Pakistani politics? Which gets read more?

Does this mean I should become a fashion photographer because it would pay me more and that's what the public want? I don't think that's true, and as a photographer I feel it is my responsibility to remember that, difficult as it may be.

Finally, I hope that people who read this blog may find it interesting and useful. It is not my intention to be disrepectful and if anyone feels I have been so I apologise.