It's not dead, but who cares?

Ok. So can we all agree that photojournalism is not dead - As I've said before, if it's anything it's a movie zombie that just won't die!). So, what do we do with this undead creature. The defense for photojournalism seems to revolve around photographers who are working, creating new business strategies and ways of funding their work and paying the bills (many of these methods are not new, by the way - it's just that more people are utilising them).

The real question to me is Who is looking at this stuff?

I didn't go to Perpignon, or Arles, or any of the other photo festivals this year (except one, in New York, which is on my doorstep) but perhaps someone who did go can tell me how many non-photographers were there.

When you go to a music festival, is the entire crowd full of musicians?

I guess that may be a poor analogy, as music is often seen as entertainment and a lot of good visual journalism is shall we say, less than entertaining. In fact it is often the opposite of that. But seriously, is the average person that concerned about what journalists are reporting on? I really think that - I mean I hope that - there is more concern out there than it would sometimes seem. I'd like to think that those people who I see reading the celebrity gossip and articles on how best to pluck your eyebrows or sculpt your abs into a six pack also read in depth reports on the latest political and economic situation. I'd like to think they volunteer for a charity, talk to their neighbours, expand their knowledge of the world via photography, film, the written word, art, culture and - whenever possible - direct experience.

The truth is however, that a lot of them probably only care about how many distractions they can cram on their tablets or they are too busy reading articles on what Katie Perry is up to.

Seeing as I have occasionally had to do a google search to find out who I'm being sent to photograph, I probably should pay more attention to pop culture, like who's number 1 in the pop charts and how to get my abs nice and firm, but in this day and age, where pretty much everything I do has a knock on effect with results that ripple across the globe, I should really care about things that are a bit more important. And I'm trying to avoid sounding pompous and self important here, but the stuff in my house has been manufactured in god knows how many different countries, I have no idea what the living conditions are of the people who grew, harvested, packed, and shipped the food in my fridge. The electricity I consume as I write this probably comes from the huge coal fired power plant a few miles away and we (should) all know how much damage that is doing.

My point is that although photojournalism is not dead, what does it matter if the only audience for it is other photojournalists? If we regard our work as important, shouldn't we make sure that the audience is as wide as possible? I know there are plenty of photojournalists out there trying to do just that, trying to get their work seen by people who are not photographers, people who can use the information contained in the photographs, people who care about what is being depicted, people who are just simply curious minds. If the profession is to shake off the rumours of it's demise - which are often perpetrated by photojournalism professionals themselves - then it needs to show that it is relevant to our society. If we care about who or what we are photographing, if we think that it is worth sharing then it is part of our job to get that work seen. It doesn't even have to be sensationalist, big issue stuff. Sometimes the simplest story can speak volumes and have a reach beyond it's own confines, but it needs to fight against and hold it's own in the culture of celebrity, entertainment and distraction.

Now I'm not saying we shouldn't had fun. I like to be entertained. Who doesn't? but I also like to be informed.

So if the photojournalism zombie finally keels over, twitches and lays still, it'll be because we let it. And no-one else will even notice it's gone.


Ciara said...

Since stepping across into the photography world, I've been shocked by how much naval gazing there is. A lot of photographers seem to measure their worth in terms of what their peers are or aren't saying about them or their work. It bothers me that the only reactions I get to my work (not just photography...all my work) seems to come from others in the industry. The connection with readers is probably the one thing that I miss about being a newspaper staffer because these days I really do feel like I'm producing work just for myself and a handful of like-minded journalists/photographers - in effect preaching to the converted. that bothers me but i don't know how to change it.

Tom White said...

This is why as photographers we have to get involved in our non-photographic community; our work has to be relevant to them. We all want recognition for our efforts, but we should value recognition from non-photographers and others outside the industry perhaps more highly. I have great respect for photographers who see their audience not in terms of award panels or competition judges. A recent example I thought highly of (there are many others of course) was Stanley Greene and Kadir van Lohuizen's 'Those who fell through the cracks'. It's this kind of public outreach (for want of a better phrase) that will keep photojournalism alive, not meet and greets in the south of France (fun though that may be!)