Once upon a time there was a photographer. Someone who was expected to make pictures and not have to shoot video, produce audio, write and edit copy, use social media, and design a web page. Although we think of the “one-person-band” in journalism as a recent phenomenon, journalism really began to shift in terms of skill sets and media platform with the advance of computerization. Visual practices in journalism, beginning in the 1990s, relied on photographers to step outside the darkroom and onto computers for postproduction processes such as editing.
Today, a transformation is taking shape. In the near future, the demand for visual storytellers with experience and knowledge of video, audio, design, and writing, along with basic digital camera skills will be the norm, not the exception. In our competitive and changing field, journalists must learn to create images that communicate clearly.
Daniel Soto went to college to become a photojournalist, a field he had been interested in since high school. After graduating, unfortunately, the job market had dried up. When Daniel graduated in 2003, the job had already been on a dramatic downslide. Even when news organizations like Reuters were eliminating more 3,000 jobs, Daniel was determined to succeed. Almost immediately Daniel began honing other skills such as writing, video and web design. As the economy began to recover, Daniel had learned a few important lessons about where photojournalism was headed – a web-based industry that would provide many different ways of storytelling. In order to promote his work and demonstrate the range of skills he had developed, Daniel set up a blog. “Students today need to realize that it is quickly coming to the point that photography is not enough,” Daniel notes. “I am not necessarily advocating that students need to master skill sets beyond photography, but they need to be aware of things like video, html, CSS, Flash, after effects, etc. They need to understand how these skills/programs can add to the story they are trying to tell and surround themselves with people from a variety of backgrounds,” he said.
Another obstacle to success for many professionally trained photojournalists has been the growth of the amateur and pro-consumer camera market. Often times the professionals are overheard complaining that it seems like anyone with a camera can now make and sell images on the web,
Enter Social Media
It's almost hard to imagine, but in less than a decade more than 60 billion pictures have been uploaded to Facebook. What is even more interesting, according to a recent study, that 10 percent of the images are posted to Facebook profiles. From a sociological perspective, profile pictures tell us more about what we think about ourselves than many other forms of self-disclosure. A study by Pixable found that more women than men post profile images. In addition, women show more pictures with other women, while men prefer to be seen with women rather than other men.
Thomas Abel notes, "Private pictures make up an inherent part of the environment and everyday life of modern societies." Interestingly, Abel believes the deluge of personal images of self are akin to a "testimony of being." In other words, Facebook pictures act as a visual fingerprint in virtual form -- represents and depict and seek to reinforce our self identity. This makes sense when considering how often people change there personal profile on Facebook. Also, as we change our pictures, there is also a feedback effect -- a way of soliticing the attention of others and keeping a profile in the forefront.
Photography has become even more of a ritualized form of expression in a digital age. Not only is it an essential part of creating a sense of self in a social space, it has also become a unique and validating influence in forming internal and external circles of collaboration. Photography historian John Berger observes, "The thrill found in a photograph comes from the onrush of memory. This is obvious when it’s a picture of something we once knew." What Berger is suggesting appears so obvious to us today. Pictures + Memories = Self Concept. In a way the concept of the individual self only exists within relation to others. I am who I am because others reinforce the concept. Pictures, however, voluntarily uploaded to Facebook or other photo sharing sites, such a Photobucket (8 million photos), Picasa (7 million), or Flickr (5 million), indicate how an individual's personal image of self mirror what they and others expect to see of themselves. Comments made on an individual's wall about a specific image, placing pictures in online albums, or tagging pictures to share with others, are indications of self-validation through the actions of others.
Where this is headed is anybody's guess, but as mobile clouds and crowdsourcing expand, it is likely that the process of making and sharing images in real-time may become a norm. We can already do this through Facebook, Twitter, and Twitpic, but what is suggested here are that such practices will increase dramatically in the future.
The Great Flood
As the nation watched with great concern the extensive flooding along the Mississippi River in May 2011, photographers of all kinds turn their lenses onto the drama unfolding before them. Today, with the use of mobile devices, digital cameras, and social media, the way we inform one another as well as the way in which we are informed is unprecedented. Over the past decade alone, society has advanced from a culture of spectacle to a culture of participants in an endless stream of image production and consumption. What would 19th century photographic pioneer George Eastman, if he were alive today; have to say about the current state of photography? Could Eastman possibly imagine the immediacy, intensity, and ubiquity of the photographic image? Unlikely.
Hundreds of years from now, anthropologists will be faced with the enormous task of making sense of a sea of digital images. Many of these pictures will come from amateurs, average citizens who use a camera phone or another device to record their experiences. It is difficult to imagine that far into the future, but the proliferation of images made by amateurs and professionals will undoubtedly increase. Imagine how teams of historians and anthropologists would have to sift through the millions of images just to understand one event. In this case the flood. Beginning with September 11, 2001, the Internet has created a causeway for millions of people to store and share their images. Thanks to the digital camera, camera phones and the Internet, the world has witnessed the worst and the best of the human condition. Pictures of tortured prisoners in Iraq, aircraft accidents, banned images of flag-draped coffins, and many other events flit across screens around the world. Photosharing sites such as Flickr and Photobucket, as well as microblogging services like Twitpic have changed the way people create and use pictures.
Photo by Stephen Gipson
As a pilot and physician, Stephen Gipson has a bird's eye view of the Mississippi flood near Memphis this week. After a fly-over of the city, Gipson sent some of his images to CNN's iReport, a site that encourages amateur photographers to tell their stories.
At the same time, Jonathan Serrie, captured and transmitted pictures to Twitpic from the ground in the same area as Gipson. Both Serrie and Gipson are citizen journalists, individuals who believe sharing what is happening around them in the world is as much "news" as anything thing in a newspaper or on a television. The references for such images appear as hash (#) tags or short bits of code that link back to the original source. The way in which people connect today through images appears impermanent and virtual.
Early on, as more and more people began making and submitting pictures pertaining to news events, many in the mainstream held the belief that these cheaper, sloppier, and sometimes inaccurate representations of "reality" would undermine the profession of photojournalism.
There is cause for concern. In the news industry thousands of news professionals were being laid off, downsized, and dump out on to the street to compete for what few jobs remained. The fact is that just about anyone a digital camera meant fewer opportunities for professional. Skepticism and pessimism seemed permeated any discussion about amateur photographers undermine photojournalism's role in the news process. In the meantime, the field scrambled to produce a new, more versatile, type of photojournalist -- individuals that could make images, video, produce audio, write, and build a website.
Professional news photography and amateur photography are forced to co-exist is the hyper-extended media landscape of today -- a place where temporal-spatial boundaries shift and where immediacy is everything. Deadlines seem irrelevant in an age when an eyewitness can upload a picture from their cell phone faster than a trained professional can get his or her camera out of the bag.
While a "first-person responder" type of image (amateur) has its place in the feeding frenzy of endless news cycle, there is also a lot to say about thoughtful, compelling, and more carefully constructed images made by professional photojournalists. Despite the tendency to think that social media "flattens" out how much information we receive, there is still something to say about accountability and reliability. The idea of an information hierarchy may seem to have been undermined by 10 million bloggers with cameras, but in reality the vast number of people seeking news still depend upon professionals to get it.
To become more literate of the events shaping our lives, social media photography provides a rich layer of images in which to make sense of things. But it is just a layer. Traditional media also provides the same function but with the added benefit of a self-regulated control for veracity and accuracy. Social media offers no such guarantee.
While there are thousands of first-person pictures available online, it is easy to see that just a few dramatic pictures made by professional can enhance our understanding of an event and inform us in valuable ways.
Recently, a picture made by photojournalist Matthew Hinton illustrates this point when laid along side first-person responder accounts. Hinton, who works for the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, made an image of a ship riding high in the swollen waters of the Mississippi. The picture is edifying and helps to develop a context in which to understand how the flood is affecting the city. Hinton approaches visual storytelling methodically and conscientiously. He knows his audience and he knows what is expected of him. In addition to skills sets, his profession prescribes a specific code of conduct -- a set of beliefs and practices that others using social media may not understand.
Social media is often viewed as a one-size-fits-all formula to news judgment. Getting the picture, for many of us with camera phones, means simply that, "getting the picture." One picture. Beyond the physical act of capturing an event -- bearing witness, first-responder photographs appear to be made with little regard to the aesthetics of the frame.
If your plane goes down and you live through it, the last think you are going to worry about is composition and lighting. Moreover, the primary audience for the image is not a news outlet. Getting rich off a "one shot wonder" is very unlikely. In fact, most people make images simply to share with family and friends. Today, we might extend this sharing to Facebook and Twitter followers as well.
When the roof on a commercial aircraft ripped recently somewhere over Arizona, one passenger began emailing and tweeting her images back to earth. Twitpics in not Time magazine, but it does generate a lot of interest. Two things can happen in a case like this one. First, the world gets a personal first-hand view of the event in real time, and, second, the passenger ends up being part of the story.
When the roof on a commercial aircraft ripped recently somewhere over Arizona, one passenger began emailing and tweeting her images back to earth. Twitpics in not Time magazine, but it does generate a lot of interest. Two things can happen in a case like this one. First, the world gets a personal first-hand view of the event in real time, and, second, the passenger ends up being part of the story.
Joe Spake's love of photography and social media places him the unique position of bridging the worlds of first-responder amateurs with camera phones, and professional photojournalism. With a reasonably priced digital single lens reflect (DSLR) camera, some experience, and a Flickr account, Joe can share his work and his passion for Memphis with the world. A real estate broker by profession, Joe is also an avid blogger and user of all-things social media. One glance at Joe's Flickr site and it is easy to see how connected he is to his community. There are pictures of the seasons, festivals, tourist spots, and much more. When Memphis prepared for one of the worst floods in history, Joe was there to make images. It made sense to take and share his work with others.
Bottom line. Joe’s images far exceed the fuzzy quality of most camera phones. For some, Joe’s Flickr image demonstrate how photo-loving individuals, people with other ways of making a living, can walk the line between the professional and the amateur.
Several years ago, a wild fire threatened to burn down a small town in Southern Oregon. As the sky darkened with smoke, police and fire crews rushed to the scene. At the same time, a small army of shutterbugs was headed toward the fire. In this situation, the police not only had to help evacuate people from their homes, but also keep thrill-seekers out of the area. Back at the 13,000 circulation daily newspaper, a part-time photographer attempted to make a deadline in less than 30 minutes. While at the computer frantically transmitting pictures, a seemingly endless parade of people from the community came in asking whether anyone wanted to use their images for publication.
The photographer soon became overwhelmed with not only the deadline, but with the onslaught of potentially news worthy images taken by citizen shutterbugs. For more than 3 hours, the photographer downloaded memory cards and listened to countless stories from people who had better access and more time than he had to tell the story. In the end, almost all of the amateur images were uploaded to a special section of the newspaper's website. The phrase, "We are the Media" resonates loudly today. But media means different things to different people.
In the world of photography, social media represents many opportunities for people to share their experiences with others. At the same time, social media also challenges the hierarchical nature of news production and transmission. The more we can understand the relationship between mainstream and social media in terms of mutually serving a wider audience, the less ambiguous the process of making pictures will become.
Today, social media has become increasingly important for photojournalists. Soto contends, “I would say that social media has drastically changed the way photographers are able to market their work.” Using Twitter, Facebook and blogs photographers have learned to become entrepreneurs – often specializing in niche areas such as the environment, local news, or politics. In some respects, the future of photojournalism has never looked better. New collectives and cooperatives of photojournalism such as LUCEO and LUCILE are springing up on the Internet to market, share and sell their work. By sharing resources and expenses, the collective provide services to clients while building a brand. Online photo sharing sites such as Flickr, Zoto, Smugmug, Scrapblog, and Snapfish provide users with a place to share, comment and organize the photographs they upload. For example, in 2008 Flickr had more than 27 million visitors. Many of the images on these photo-sharing sites demonstrate how the art of visual storytelling is no longer the domain of professional photographers. Although the majority of the candid, imperfect, snaps of life they fulfill one of the most important objectives of photojournalism -- to tell stories about the human condition.
In the late 19th century, George Eastman introduced the Kodak One – a camera marketed to the average consumer. At that time, the Kodak dramatically changed the profession of by putting the power of photography into the hands of the amateur. The Eastman Kodak Company had figured how to sell the camera with the consumer having to mess with developing and printing their own pictures. Kodak with sent the camera to users with unexposed film. Once images were made the camera was returned and the images developed. At the same time, although studio and itinerant portrait photographer remained busy, many families could now record their lives in new ways. Today, in the 21st century the same may be said for digital photography. For Daniel Soto, “As newspapers' increase participation in social media, there is a blurring between someone as a journalist and as a regular community member. For example, I will occasionally submit interesting stories from
Technological innovation has always played a significant role in the history of photography. With innovations in digital technology––cameras, computers, image editing software and telephony––photographic routines in photojournalism are being driven by a relentless push toward faster, cheaper and greater quantities of information. Now, digital technology increasingly intensifies and fundamentally changes the way people think, feel and act toward making images. Albeit an overly deterministic and simplistic comment, the consequences of shifting from film-based to digital photography are only just now emerging. It seems fairly obvious to me that there is a strong relationship between how productive and how empowered a photographer feels using a digital camera.
The Backpack Visual Journalist
Kevin Launius, a staff photographer at the Grants Pass (Ore.) Daily Courier sits at a cramped folding table put up for a presidential campaign stops. Launius is one of thousands of small and mid-sized circulation news photographers who are facing the challenge of adapting to producing content for both online and print editions of their newspapers. Newspapers, during a time of decreased readership and consolidation, expect staff to make the adjustment across platforms.
As the transition from film to digital photography continues, there is general agreement that the new medium offers some distinct advantages in productivity and creativity over prior wet-processes and routines. For many still photographers, however, the shift to digital has also included the addition of shooting video for the Web.
While some photographers embrace the challenges of shooting video along with still images at events, others express frustration over what they perceive as an additional burden.
Launius, has mixed feelings about having to work with both still pictures and video.
“It [video] has been thrown in our lap – it’s like, here take this [video camera] and make beautiful pictures now,” said Launius, who has been shooting video for the newspaper for more than a year.
“I’m getting used to it. It’s the way the job is expanding,” he said.
Launius recognizes that many small newspapers now expect much more from staff as journalism increasingly moves from print to online content. Doing the work traditionally done by two or three people seems to increasingly be the norm at smaller circulation papers.
Observing Launius and others cover a recent Barack Obama campaign rally in Southern Oregon sheds light on how the addition of video is having an impact on the work of small and mid-size daily newspapers in this country. For Launius, excelling at making and transmitting images in both still and video formats appears daunting. Not only do photojournalists concern themselves with the quality of images – static and moving, but they must also worry about audio.
Moving back and forth between working a video camera, capturing still images from a variety of angles and transmitting the images back to the newspaper on deadline throughout the event intensifies what the main objective of visual reportage should be – conveying salient and compelling images that embody the spirit of the event so that readers can become more informed. In essence, what Launius is doing is preparing content for two different audiences – one traditional print-based readership and the other an online readership. Although these audiences may eventually merge, some news organizations are forcing a vision of the future of news on staff – one that requires them to think of online content as a cross between print and broadcast journalism.
Although some photojournalists have adapted to juggling the two specializations, others are being dragged reluctantly into a field that they were neither trained for or that they have interest in. The dilemma, for some photojournalists, seems to be that even if they are forced to capture more content across multiple platforms, the quality of what they ultimately produced will suffer.
In a cross-platform world, photojournalists are increasingly expected to be able to produce not only edifying decisive moments in still photography, but also compelling visual narratives with video as well.
What would you say are the most important things people entering the field of photojournalism need to know?
Students today need to realize that it is quickly coming to the point that photography is not enough. I am not necessarily advocating that students need to master skill sets beyond photography, but they need to be aware of things like video, html, css, flash, after effects, etc. They need to understand how these skills/programs can add to the story they are trying to tell and surround themselves with people from a variety of backgrounds.
I think you are seeing this with the multimedia collectives that are finding success. Groups such as California is a Place, Nomadique and 49th parallel productions (not to mention giants such as VII and Magnum) show the power of incorporating multiple skill sets to produce powerful stories.
How is social media such as Flickr, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook changing the field?
I would say that social media has drastically changed the way photographers are able to market their work. Take the LUCEO photo cooperative. They are a group of highly skilled, relatively young photographers who have all decided to leave newspaper journalism and take advantage of the Internet to help promote their work.
"LUCEO’s six founding members came together during a time of industry transition that has impacted the way that imagery is created, distributed and consumed. We are meeting these challenges with creative ideas that offer solutions to our clients and allow us opportunities to work on projects with purpose."
Perhaps this could have been done in the past, but I doubt it could have been done as effectively. They have gone from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye thanks to marketing themselves on Twitter, Facebook and their own blog.
Also incredibly important has been the rise of crowd-funded projects. Beginning with spot.us and now including Kickstarter and emphas.is, crowdfunding has allowed journalists to take their projects directly to the public and fund projects based on small donations rather than hoping to sell it later or be awarded a large grant.
Are there ethical concerns working with social media that photographers should know about?
With newspapers' increased participation in social media, there is a blurring between someone as a journalist and as a regular community member. For example, I will occasionally submit interesting stories from The News Journal to Reddit. A few times, people have asked questions about the story submitted, and I have started a dialogue with them. I have tried to remain neutral in all of my discussions, but I also use Reddit casually on a regular basis, and so I have to be careful about how I comment on other stories, what stories I upvote, what I downvote, etc.
Photographers have to be conscious about exactly what they are putting out there. At times they have a false sense of privacy.
At the same time, Al Tompkins on the Poynter Institute Web site questions the efficacy of news operations who use camera phone images from citizen shutterbugs. According to Thompkins, "There are tons of questions about how and whether newsrooms should publish or air such images:
- How do you know the image is authentic?
- What do you know/need to know about how the image was captured?
- What was the photographer's involvement in the incident he or she captured?
- How do you keep from encouraging people to take unnecessary or dangerous risks in order to capture a photograph?
- Will you compensate people for images? How will you decide how much to pay?
- How much are you willing to compromise your standards of quality in order to use a cell image?
- How easy is it for people to send you images and how easy is it for you to use them?
All questions aside, the bigger issue is how will journalism adapt to an onslaught of independent content produced by CSers (citizen shutterbugs)? Washington Post columnist Robert MacMillan notes in his column "Random Access," I am inclined to think that we have been witnessing for some time now a significant turn in the information age - a turn toward not only the mass consumption of news from multiple sources but also the mass production of news from multiple sources.
MacMillian contends, "Citizen journalism is different. It often covers a wide territory, from soliciting arts and entertainment coverage to providing the angle on the city council budget that the cub reporter might have missed. "The London attacks moved the trend to a new level. Web sites from the BBC's to the Guardian's provided eyewitness accounts, some showing up as little as an hour or two after the first bomb went off. Rather than relying on unfocused, rambling blog entries, the London papers and the Beeb ran pithy postings from the people who were there. They ran alongside the staff reporters' accounts and presumably with the same amount of editing."
How is the mainstream media responding to the deluge of images produced by CSers?
Will newspapers and television stations hire people just to sit in front of a computer to monitor all the photoblogs out there that might have images they can use?
As it now stands, many of the individuals producing images during the London terrorist bombings have received any financial compensation for their efforts. Photo stringers typically receive between $75-$100 for pictures of events, but this is different. Traditionally, amateurs who have captured an important news event with a camera have sold their images to news sources, sometimes for great sums of money. How does having hundreds of camera phones at the scene of a bomb blast change the course of news-gathering?
It is abundantly clear that the mainstream media will at first claim fair use of the images as they appear on sites like Flickr, Yahoo or Smugmug. At the same time, many amateur photographers and citizen shutterbugs appear eager to share their images with the mainstream press.
As many observers have argued, it has been suggested that the camera, be it film or digital, is a tool for communicating information and ideas between a source and a user. The camera is an extension of the seer and the seen. People tend to act predictably in front of as well as behind the camera, but the immediacy of the digital format is what alters the experience from prior experiences with film.
The speed in which communication takes place in a digital age does have the potential to impact the encounter significantly. Moreover, it is not only the camera that is changing the landscape of how we capture and exchange “moments” and “memories.” Along with the camera, the user must how become familiar with other technologies, including computers, software programs, and electronic storage, and telephony, especially cellular technology.
All of this complicates how we talk about digital photography, because it’s not just about taking pictures anymore. It is about how we take, select, size, store, and share the images with one another on printed page or computer screen. It is about how we decide to interact with one another when making pictures with a digital camera. It is about the science as well as the moral agency of making pictures in a digital age.
In a recent survey of professional photojournalists 75 percent of respondents claimed that they not received training in the use of the digital camera. In fact, most of the knowledge photojournalists have about digital technology comes from word of mouth or the Internet.
Even higher education has been hard pressed to keep up with these transitions. For Jon Jeffery, “New technologies have recently changed the universal body of knowledge that defines the foundation for teaching in professional photographic education.”
In the classroom, the changes in what students are required to know about photography is not just about making technically clean, well composed and meaningful images. The days of standing under the amber and red safelights in a darkroom watching prints develop are ending. Now, students must understand the techno-speak of computer geeks and photo gear heads.
Students often face the harsh reality of technological malaise with concerns over increased image contrast, dot gain, editing and storage. In an all-digital environment, photography is no longer as mysterious, magical, or even as sexy and hanging out in a darkroom making a perfect print. Digital technology makes the process of producing images for publication more clinical and less quaint.
For more than 100 years, photojournalists have been dependent on film and chemical processes in the coverage of news. Even during a period of digitalization in the 1980s, film was still the primary medium as it was converted into pixels through computer scanning in post-production. However, it was not until the 1990s that photojournalism was to feel the greatest impact on routines introduced by digital technological innovation. In the news business, many saw the digitalization of images produced with film cameras as a way to reduce costs related to chemical processes as well as to increase efficiency by eliminating time spent making prints in the darkroom. Electronic imaging, that is the conversion of analog to digital information, shifted dramatically for many news operations prior to the full-scale adoption of digital cameras in photojournalism. Electronic imaging pulled photojournalists out of darkrooms and pushed them in front of computer terminals. One driving force behind this phenomenon began with the Associated Press’ (AP) high-speed digital photo transmission and receiver system.
In the late 1980s, the AP Leaf Picture system, with a constant stream of electronic imagery uploaded to thousands of newspapers worldwide, nudged the news business, and photojournalism, even further into the digital age. With digital, the transition has occurred within a decade and has required not only acquiring new skills with the camera but also in production methods.
According to Digital Photography Review, more than 22.8 million digital cameras will have been sold in the United States in 2004, representing a 58% increase in sales since 2002 (Online). As predicted in the 1980s, digital photography changes the way photojournalists and newspapers cover the news. Digital cameras are now the dominant image capture devices in photojournalism. Coupled with the technology of computers, cellular phones, and fast wireless Internet connections, photojournalists have become more independent in the production of their images. Although content is paramount in photojournalism, extended deadlines, immediate editing and transmission of images with the digital camera have had a significant impact on photojournalism in recent years.
The pace of technological change in society appears to be accelerating, especially in digital photography, telephony and electronic imaging. Winston suggests that the “storm of progress blows so hard as to obscure our vision of what is actually happening.” As this brief history of technological change in photojournalism attempts to explain, the speed at which images can be produced and published has been a driving factor for innovation. Until the advent of the digital camera, photojournalists defined behaviors and routines around the visual environment of working with film-based chemical processes. Digital technology disrupts older chemical-based processes in photojournalism and replaces traditional routines with newer ones. In photojournalism, digital technology represents a shift in the complex landscape of routines, rituals, norms, and attitudes affecting how photojournalists define and justify the ideologies supporting a visual domain. Therefore, this section takes note that the history of technological change is inextricably linked to advances in communicative processes and newsgathering practices.
As Didlick contends, “Anyone keeping up with the changing trends in newspaper photography knows change is happening fast…digital photography has finally reached a stage were it is a deadline and production tool, rather than an expensive toy for computer-literate photographers. The photographic routines of photojournalists adopting the new technology of the digital camera differ from prior experiences with film cameras. Digital cameras, laptop computers and cellular telephones offer more flexibility for photographers working in the field. Fahamy and Smith suggest, “Without a doubt, several aspects of the practice of news photography are changing.” Nearly two decades ago Tomas suggested, “With digital technology it is no longer necessary to wait to see results after image capture. Photographic routines are situated within cultural practices that symbolically reorganize sensory experience. “ From this perspective, time between making the images and actually seeing it appears has disrupted the many rituals and routines associated with traditional non-digital photography. In photojournalism, the digital camera signifies the transition into the age of the instant –an era where the immediacy of the photographic process affects how photographers feel about the images they make, how productive they can be, and how they relate to other people. As one photo editor contends, “Photographers can make far less excuses when they don’t come back with the picture.” Photographic routines in photojournalism consist of technical and social contingencies that govern practice, attitudes and behaviors. In photojournalism, routines are contextually dependent activities, explicit and implicit, that work at different levels of the photographic enterprise, including pre-visualization, interaction between subject and photographer, image capture, and editing and other visual practices. Technological and sociological dynamics affect patterns of inward and outward behavior that take shape in the normalized everyday activities of life through rituals and routines. As photojournalists transition from film to digital processes, photographic routines, rituals, norms and standards are continually being redefined and renegotiated by professionals. As many photojournalists describe, instead of the “shooting and shipping” routine common with film cameras, photographers now have the ability to assume more responsibility for reviewing and editing on-the-scene. Writing for the newspaper industry trade journal Presstime Berry argues, “Just as digital technology has increased the speed with which editors can get photos into their own hands, it has delivered greater editorial control into the hands of the photographers who take them.”
With digital photography, the immediacy of reviewing images may save the photographer the embarrassment of returning to re-shoot an event if a mistake is made, or allow them more time on assignment since he or she does not have to rush back to process and scan the film images. In addition, monitoring images after capture may further enhance the accuracy of information or captioning. The digital camera suggests the transference of information technology from an era of a singular source such as a film negative into an age of high-speed infinite facsimile, which may result in the decreased accuracy of verification. The seamless and malleable nature of digital information presents great opportunities as well as challenges for a profession, which prides itself on producing accurate and timely visual reportage. The ontological and epistemological conditions in which photojournalists engage in photographic routines can be observed through the expectations and obligations imposed on individuals by the occupational group. Further, the de-centralization of post-production processes signifies a disruption in previously experienced routines and rituals through the elimination of mechanical processes related to film and print development. Changes now being experienced in photojournalism through the use of the digital camera not only hold organizational and mechanical implications but sociological ones as well. There should be little doubt now that the changing media landscape has deeply affected traditional news photography. Increasingly, photographers at many newspapers are being let go or given reduced work hours. For those lucky enough to have a job, the workload has become more demanding. The bottom line is a focus on productivity, with a slight nod toward creativity as long as it doesn’t interfere with getting the work out.
The shift toward economization in the news industry is nearly complete as media outlets compete for audiences. Recent circulation declines across the country, from New York to Miami, Los Angeles to San Francisco, and range from 3.5 percent to more than 11 percent — all of which continue to pressure a beleaguered industry. Even more problematic is that younger audiences continue to shun newspapers as an information source.
The next phase of computer-mediated communication is around the corner in the form of instant mobile technologies. Many news organizations are already sending content taken with video camera phones directly to Web sites and mobile phones. Recently, the Sacramento Bee used mobile technology to stream live coverage of the Olympic torch using Qik, a software program that enables streaming videos directly from a phone to the Web. Other social communication platforms, such as Kyte, Seesmic, and Ustream, offer live video streams that connect with social networking sites.
What’s clear is that dramatic changes in how the news is produced are being driven by similarly dramatic changes in how it is being consumed. What will photojournalism look like 20 years from today? I envision that much of our news will be customized and delivered directly to mobile devices. In other words, we will get the news we want, when we want it, through personal devices as well as the Internet. And in the torrent of images washing across our screens, an increasing percentage of pictures will be from amateur and freelance sources using video camera phones. In such a future, professional photographers must compete in an environment where immediacy trumps intimacy.
When we think about what photographers have to do now in order to make a publication deadline compared to what we did only 15 years ago, it is easy to understand the discontent and sense of frustration expressed by some professionals.
As Grazia Neri contends, “Reflection is necessary also on the subject of the new technologies: photograph scanning, digital transmission, the Internet. Many photographers consider the advent of digital technology a collective misfortune, which it is not possible to escape. The digital world is here to stay. It is a world that can be improved.”
Digital and computational photography, represented by the latest technological advances in image creation and processing, signifies a shift in how technology influences our visual culture. As we move from slower and more costly manual analog processes to faster and cheaper automated digital ones, there arises the danger of allowing technology to determine how reality is captured and constructed. In a very real sense, technology has become an agent of informational control. While photographic technology advances, human intervention — in the form of understanding the fundamental workings of light, exposure, or composition — tends to decrease. In other words, we know less about how a picture is made today than we did a decade ago. As digital photography, computer graphics, image processing, and computer vision merge, people become less reliant on the mechanics of technique and more dependent on the calculus of technology. Rarely do we think of the camera as an extension of technological control over how information is created and shared, but that is what it has become. Digital photography, for many, releases the photographer from taking responsibility for much of the creative, intellectual, and technical work. Image stabilizers, auto-focusing servomechanisms, matrix metering, image review and replay, and an array of programmable exposure modes engender a feeling of infallibility in photography. The intelligent machine subordinates the intelligent observer by seeking optimization, efficiency and control over visual information and culture. Digital photography, as Neil Postman might describe it, is a technology in disguise. We hardly notice the subtle shift toward total technological control over image capture — and how this inevitably shapes our perception of reality.
The accelerated intensity of computational technologies in producing photographs is outpacing our capacity for seeing and believing. We can now produce images that correct focal distortions in the camera, stitch together divergent and incongruent elements in a frame, and transcend time and space through computational adjustments.
What is being called into question today is not the technology. Rather, it is the authenticity and value of the images made with these new technologies.
This observation is not new to the field of photography, which has always suffered from the perception of being an interloper in the antecedent practices of art, painting and drawing. Despite all the benefits of digital photographic technologies, authenticity remains photography’s weakness.
Perhaps the concept of authenticity in a digital age has become outmoded by a generation of young photographers not familiar with how automation changes how we experience the process of photography. While we may not completely surrender ourselves to the computational aspects of photographic technology, there is a tendency toward obsequiousness that prevents us from thinking through essential relationships, such as light and vision.
How relationships change in a digital age becomes an important question when so much of our understanding of truth is predicated on the trust we have in the relationships among storyteller, story, and viewer. The notion of “relationship” seems to help explain some of the underlying precepts in photography — immediacy, intensity and intimacy.
At the same time, other relationships emerge as we attempt to make sense of how photography may be changing. A few things that come to mind in terms of relationship include notions of ordinariness, failure and ambiguity.
No matter how photography evolves, it is ultimately about relationships — from the use of technology to interaction with light and subject. The images we make speak to audiences in differing ways. Our images speak about our relationship to light, space, memory, passion, emotion, reality, the people, places and things we choose to photograph, and the times in which we live. Along with our relationships to these things comes a sense of responsibility that we are capturing what we perceive to be moments of truth — experiences that present to us something meaningful, be they profound or a matter of fact. When we think of relationship, we may be inclined to limit our understanding to physical relationships, but there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. We need to consider how images can shift from being ordinary to extraordinary. Moreover, digital photography affords us a lot more latitude in terms of failure. The immediacy of the image allows us to experiment and re-make images on the spot.
The Perfect Storm
In 1906, an earthquake ripped through San Francisco setting off firestorms across the city. At that time photography was less than a century old. But people recognized the importance of documenting the event -- they could see the power of the image -- even if trained professionals didn’t always make the pictures.
Fast forward another 100 years, when Aaron Fuhrman, a photography enthusiast with a well-trafficked site on Flickr, decided to leave his home in the middle of the night to photograph the aftermath of a tornado which devastated the city of Joplin, Missouri. Glued to the Weather Channel that evening with his wife Amy, they watched as the tornado advanced toward Joplin. Feeling the need to see Joplin first hand, Fuhrman decided he and his brother-in-law Lee Myers, would make the more than four hour trek to Joplin. They arrived just before sunrise.
“It was when the reporter for TWC [The Weather Channel] broke down on air that I told Amy I felt like I needed to go and photograph the damage,” Fuhrman recalled in a recent correspondence.
Navigating their way closer to the center of the city, after receiving permission from the police, the two men began to grasp the full impact of the tornado’s path. Nothing could have prepared them for what lay before them. Fuhrman notes, “I think I was numb when I arrived in Joplin. The reality for me was the damage. I had never been to Joplin before and had no idea what the area, where the tornado hit, should look like. The landscape was surreal in that it was normal to see cars wrapped up in trees and metal siding or roofing wrapped up like aluminum foil.”
Fuhrman further observed, “The landscape looked as if a giant lawnmower and run through the area. For Lee and I it was the only reality we knew because we had never been to Joplin before. What struck me at this point was the contrast of a beautiful sunrise over total destruction. After that it was the realization that I should not be able to see the sun on the horizon from that vantage point. We could see damage where we were standing to the horizon and knew there was damage behind us for some distance as well.”
Photographing as they walked through the rubble, Fuhrnman was eventually stopped and questioned by authorities – something that is very typical and important in such situations. It was by this time, after witnessing so much devastation that he felt they might be in the way.
After returning home, Fuhrman posted his Joplin aftermath pictures to his Flickr account. The response to the images was immediate and overwhelming. News media from around the country took notice and he was soon contacted about his experiences and his pictures have been used across the web as a first-person account of the tornado’s aftermath. Fuhrman, by this time, could no longer be counted as an enthusiast. His work now contributes to telling the story of Joplin in a significant way.
“For me, Flickr was a way to showcase my work, at least in the beginning. What it has become for me is a way to connect with others who share the same interest. I have connected with people all over the world with Flickr,” he said.
Fuhrman believes that publicly sharing his images on Flickr has helped tell a bigger story. “I believed this before I left for Joplin and found it to be very true after I uploaded the images. I have received messages from people in other states who were motivated to help in many ways,” he said.
“Messages came in from Joplin residents and those who have Family and Friends in Joplin. Even in their quest to make contact they thanked me for the photos. My Flickr account has received over 1,000,000 hits since I uploaded the images from Joplin,”
“I have been contacted by CNN, FOX News, NPR, ABC World News, Nightline and many others who used my images to help describe the damage in Joplin. I feel this is the only good that comes from my photos. Telling this story has sent overwhelming support to a city with overwhelming damage,” Fuhrman said.
Photography, through social media, has entered a new era where the lines between professional and enthusiast seem imperceptive, Today, sharing, connecting, and the immediacy of an image’s impact are now part of our complex media environment.
For Fuhrman, “The messages I received in the days after the tornado shows just how powerful a tool the social media can be. People could not make contact fast enough through official sources and turned to me, despite knowing I was hours from Joplin at the time. They would ask if I had photographed a certain area or if I could help find Family and Friends. Through social media I would forward their request to those who I believe might be able to help.”