Photo journalism revisited

Following my post yesterday on photo journalism, Shane Richmond, News Editor of the Telegraph, has responded – and makes a very valid point:

Writing on his own blog, Will from The Corridor wrote: “Words can be mistaken, misinterpreted, altered, subbed and disagreed with – part of its joy and appeal – but photography, especially wartime photo journalism, has no such luxury. A dead kid is a dead kid; an elephant is, well, just that.”

Unfortunately, Will is wrong. Photos can be deceiving in all kinds of ways. They too can be mistaken, misinterpreted and disagreed with. But Will is right about their power, which is why they provoke such passion.

Many people don’t think we should publish photographs showing dead bodies or seriously injured people because they think it is in bad taste. They feel that it’s inappropriate or exploitative to show such images.

That was the case with the ‘falling man’ image taken on September 11th, 2001. It was used in many publications following the attack on New York but, such was the outcry from the public, it is seldom republished.

Of course photos can be mistaken and misinterpreted and, as Scott rightly points out, tweaked in Photoshop too. I hadn’t given any thought to what I wrote (a common problem with blogging in general. Or is that just me?) and, in retrospect, my remarks were rather flippant and ignorant. Perhaps my point is thus: whereas a paragraph, or even an entire story, might helpfully convey the background to a situation, an accompanying photo adds so much more to the story. The two are intrinsically linked and compliment eachother.

Shane has entered into a lively debate with a political blogger who argues, or rather questions, that these photos (and perhaps photo journalism of wartime conflicts “in general”) are contrived or staged. Call me naive but I simply cannot agree with this. Political propaganda is as old as the hills but, as Shane points out, there are simply too many photographers all competing for the same shot. What chance of staging such a shot and getting away with it? Despite the rise in citizen journalism, no Tom Dick or Harry can rock up with their favourite Canon EOS, masquerade as a journalist, avoid being killed by falling bombs, conspire with their chosen favourite warlord, stage a photo and get away with it.

Anyway, rather gone off topic here, but I remain fascinated by the decisions behind what is published in newspapers. Blogs like the Telegraph’s – to a lesser degree the BBC’s, too, although I find their style surprisingly cocksure and sickly – really are demystifying the often shadowy world of newspapers and their editorial decisions. As someone who is now in that industry, albeit dedicated to one sport, I find it all pretty fascinating to say the least.

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