Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gone to hell in a handbasket

The latest events in Ferguson, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world got me to thinking about the profession of photojournalism. I was fortunate to be a photojournalist in a small town setting. I got to know the people where I worked. I got to watch children grow up, graduated high school, get married, and, these days, have children of their own.
But the events in Ferguson have me questioning the ethics of today's photojournalists especially the ones that want to make a splash on the scene and become world famous like the Capa and Cartier-Bresson of old and the Turnley brothers and Natchwey of today.
I know that type of photojournalism is necessary but it seems that is all there is these days. And, to be honest, it is disheartening. Everyone seems to be looking to win the Putlizer Prize rather than be ethical.
Some time back I saw a blog entry somewhere that was done by a young French photojournalist if memory serves. His focus was on the how some war correspondents approach their work. He showed images that indicated that not was all at it seemed. While the images were not "staged" in the truest sense of the word, the participants were acting for the cameras. They would throw rocks, etc., but they were not really throwing them at anyone. The images captured by the photographers showed only people throwing rocks but not any that showed the emptiness they were throwing them into.
Earlier this week while watching the nightly news, my wife noticed a Ferguson protestor move up close to a photographer and, once he had the photographer's attention, he dropped to his knees and threw up his hands to go with the "hands up, don't shoot" mantra that the protestors have taken up. All just for the camera. It is one thing to be embedded with a military group. It is another to let the people you are photographing manipulate you.
I used to have kids ask me to take their pictures but the ones that ran in the paper were the ones when they forgot I was still there. I would watch the local TV journalists come out and stage a sequence and all I could think is how manipulative that is. After all, isn't the journalism profession supposed to present the facts and not some liberal or conservative slant? Due to the physical limitations of the equipment (focal length of the lens, etc.) and the position of the photographer, not everything will always be as it seems. But then the editing process should remove images that seem to be pushing a certain agenda which is not always an easy task.
One of things I tried to do with my images is present enough information for the viewer to come to their own conclusion. I did not always succeed but think that the following two images provided information that could lead to different conclusions depending on your own personal preferences.
The first image was taken after Hurricane Kartrina had hit the Ocean Springs, MS, home of a firefighter and my local firefighters had gone to assist.


The second image is of several 6-8 year old girls watching another contestant in a beauty pageant.


Each of these images will be viewed differently by each viewer and everyone will come to their own conclusions based on their own knowledge and circumstances.
But all I tried to do was present enough info in each shot to get folks to think. The little girls were not aware of my presence at the time. The couple in the first shot had gotten used to my presence as I had been there for a couple of days.
While I have my own thoughts about the images and what they mean to me, all I tried to do was present an image that got people to look and make their own judgments. My thoughts about my photography was to try and present the truth, whatever the viewer thought the "truth" was.
As always, make a comment!! Let me know what you think! Until next time, keep on shooting....

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