When photojournalist Elissa Eubanks' picture of Atlanta's Veterans Day parade ran on the front page, some readers were less than impressed with her attempt to turn a run-of-the-mill assignment into something a little different. Unfortunately, some folks didn't see the art in cutting Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the parade's grand marshal, head in half. The effect did please Constitution-Journal editors, but some readers have expressed outraged -- claiming that the picture was demeaning and disrespectful.
Are photojournalists working too hard to make images more appealing and interesting?
Are photojournalists becoming overly focused on making "art" rather than practicing bread and butter visual reports of everyday events?
I am not suggesting a return to the days of the "shin-plaster" or the "grip and grin," but there is obviously a line between the science and art of doing visual journalism.
Eubank's picture raises issues about how the public perceives the role of journalists in covering civic events. Photographers appear to be making aesthetic choices that take them further away from the realm of journalism and more into the realm of art. Maybe it's not that big of deal. Photojournalism, as a form of artistic expression, is certainly better than it has ever been and there is some great work being done today. However, many readers don't want or even expect their news to be artsy. Readers want and expect their news to be delivered with without embellishment or panache -- that what journalism should be about. Unfortunately, in today's hyper-media world the pressure is on not only to inform but to also entertain.
When a news picture is treated as art in order to distinguish it from other media, the public may actually see the effort as a gimmick, or even worse, as a disingenuous attempt to sensationalize the news.
In fact, the framing technique used in Eubank's picture is a relatively recent addition to the photojournalist's bag of aesthetic techniques. A few decades ago, a photographer turning in such an image would be given a ton of grief over the approach. Just like shooting pictures at odd angles with slanting horizons, the technique of cutting into a subject's face has emerged as convention only since the 1980s, when news moved away from its antecedent "hard" format to one that is much softer.
The stylistic conventions applied to many news pictures today are infused with artistic sensibilities that were discouraged just a few decades ago. Today, photojournalism, as an art form, has evolved, even if readers don't always appreciate the difference.