January 21, 2010

Photojournalism & Haiti

What exactly is it that photojournalists do when they travel to a place like Haiti to "document" tragedies? Are they telling stories that need to be told? Are they providing a social and political service to the rest of the world? Are they helping the people of Haiti? Are they contributing to the solution, helping to assist? Are they turning human tragedy into little more than visual commodities (distributed by TIME, Newsweek, CNN, MSNBC, and so on)?

Photojournalist Michael David Murphy asks if there is a need for a new kind of photojournalism in a recently published post on the site Foto8. His contention is that there is an extreme amount of redundancy, since so many photographers end up trying to capture THE iconic image that will garner international recognition. Maybe that's the case, maybe not. Murphy writes:

Are conflict photographers, or the kinds of photographers who are on the first flights into situations like Haiti, more experienced in reacting to quickly evolving events, rather than telling a story that spans a sequence of pictures? It looks like everyone’s running around trying to photograph the next iconic image that will win a World Press Photo award, rather than trying to visually tell the stories of the Haitian people.

So what stories are being told by the news media, and what effects are created by the ways in which events such as this are depicted. I think it is important to consider HOW these events are portrayed, since that very coverage can shape the understandings of the rest of the world.

Murphy suggests that the photojournalistic efforts should somehow be coordinated so that different aspects of the story are covered (and not just aspects that focus on certain elements of the tragedy):

Why don’t media outlets join forces to divide and conquer the enormity of a situation like Haiti’s? Media outlets could assign individual photographers to follow one aspect of the Haiti story, and the story could be published by all participating outlets.

For some reason though, I doubt that there will be any kind of coordination at this level, since this is still very much a business, and certain types of images have more "selling power" than others. Would news organizations be willing to share their portions of the story? Would photographers be willing to take on the assignments that might not garner as much widespead attention? In my opinion the news media imagery is often dictated by specific kinds of images that are both dramatic and compelling--so would more balanced and in-depth coverage actually be viable? Would people still buy magazines, or tune in to news reports? The question is really this: are these events documented according to what is "really happening" or are they presented in a way that appeals to the people who consume mass media? What influences the ways in which photographers (and editors) represent these kinds of events?


Anonymous said...

I heard one narrator say they landed with their own supplies of water and food to give out till gone. If I was trying to connect with a victim to take a photo and get their story and did not have something to offer them to drink or eat I personally could not live with myself. I would imagine the need is so great it is over whelming for all parties wanting to help and those who need the help.

Ryan Anderson said...

Ya, I completely understand your point. And that's why I am pretty sure that I could never be a photojournalist.

Conor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Conor said...

So, because you give them a small amount of water or food you have the right to not only take their picture, but also use it for widespread publication and personal gain? Sorry, but that is pretty terrible.

Adam Wood said...

It's not about giving and taking. It's about developing relationships, acting out as a responsible citizen to society, advocating for individuals and families in need of change and proving them with compassion and hope. It's about crossing ethical boundaries as a " traditional " photojournalist and using your heart, words, hands and resources instead of a long lens. It starts before you get there. Having a plan to reach out in a way that creates significant change to a family(s) or individuals is the most important role. The truth is not subjective. Tell the story not just the story of iconic images. But I forgot, people are afraid of getting their hands dirty, afraid of getting to close and far more interesting in receiving praise for their stoic breathtaking image. Just my 2 cents.