Monday, August 09, 2010

Photojournalism 1855-2010 R.I.P.


(Roger Fenton's assistant Marcus Sparling in the Crimea 1855)

Photojournalism was finally taken off life-support and pronounced dead on 1st August 2010.

At least, that is, according to Neill Burgess. Burgess - who runs his own picture agency, NB Pictures, represents 10 photographers, including Simon Norfolk, Dayanita Singh and SebastiĆ£o Salgado, and was also head of Network Photographers and Magnum Photos in New York, and Magnum London, which he helped set up in 1986. He is twice a former Chairman of World Press Photo - writes for Editorial Photographers UK:


"“For God’s sake, somebody call it!”

Has the time come to take photojournalism off life-support? After nearly 25 years in the business, agency director Neil Burgess steps forward to make the call.

...Today I look at the world of magazine and newspaper publishing and I see no photojournalism being produced. There are some things which look very like photojournalism, but scratch the surface and you’ll find they were produced with the aid of a grant, were commissioned by an NGO, or that they were a self-financed project, a book extract, or a preview of an exhibition.

Magazines and newspapers are no longer putting any money into photojournalism. They will commission a portrait or two. They might send a photographer off with a writer to illustrate the writer’s story, but they no longer fund photojournalism. They no longer fund photo-reportage. They only fund photo illustration.

We should stop talking about photojournalists altogether. Apart from a few old dinosaurs whose contracts are so long and retirement so close that it’s cheaper to keep them on, there is no journalism organisation funding photographers to act as reporters. A few are kept on to help provide ‘illustration’ and decorative visual work, but there is simply no visual journalism or reportage being supported by so called news organisations.

Seven British-based photographers won prizes at the ‘World Press Photo’ competition this year and not one of them was financed by a British news organisation. But this is not just a UK problem. Look at TIME and Newsweek, they are a joke. I cannot imagine anyone buys them on the news-stand anymore. I suspect they only still exist because thousands of schools, and libraries and colleges around the world have forgotten to cancel their subscriptions. Even though they have some great names in photojournalism on their mastheads, when did you last see a photo-essay of any significance in these news magazines?

The wire services have concentrated on development of TV and internet services and focused on financial intelligence to pay the bills, rather than news as it happens. They rely on stringers and on ‘citizen journalists’ when there’s a breaking story, not professional photojournalists...

...I woke up this morning with a dream going around in my head. It was as if I’d been watching a medical drama, ER or something, where they’d spent half the programme trying to revive a favourite character: mouth to mouth, blood transfusions, pumping the chest up and down, that electrical thing where they shout “Clear!” before zapping them with 50,000 volts to get the heart going again, emergency transplants and injections of adrenalin …, but nothing works. And someone sobs, “We’ve got to save him we cannot let him die.” And his best friend steps forward, grim and stressed and says, “It’s no good. For God’s sake, somebody call it!”

Okay, I’m that friend and I’m stepping forward and calling it. “Photojournalism: time of death 11.12. GMT 1st August 2010.” Amen.

(full article here).




(Making the call: Neil Burgess is at his photo-bookstall in London’s Broadway Market most Saturdays. Photo © David Hoffman.)


I'd have to say that, within the confines of Burgesses definition of photojournalism, I'd pretty much have to agree. I don't see the day coming in there near future when a major "publication" - paper or digital - sends off the likes of a McCullin or a Nachtwey or a Peress to cover important stories in depth. Most Photojournalists today - be it for local or regional papers, the national press or the likes of Newsweek or Time or the Sunday Times (or their digital versions and/or equivalents) - really aren't even news photographers anymore - just photo-illustrators.

(Thanks to Dave Burnett for the link)

And on an almost lighter note I'll repost this:

Working in the Print Media today

A short film about how to conduct yourself when offered a photo assignment.

And I can assure those of you who have never worked for newspapers or magazines that every situation in this has happened - and worse... (after I posted this the first time an old friend emailed me and pointed out he'd once been "offered" the half-day rate to travel from Kabul to Uruzgan via Kandahar - check the map - because he would only be photographing for a couple of hours...)

NOTE: Language NSFW...




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