New Design

Photojournalism

Photojournalism Collage
Started: 1853
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Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling. If you can't feel what you're looking at, then you're never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.
Don McCullin

Summary of Photojournalism

Though one might be forgiven for sometimes confusing it with Documentary and Street Photography, Photojournalism possesses a vitality and a force all of its own. At its most rudimentary, Photojournalism is the practice of conveying the urgency of current news stories through pictures. It is true that a photojournalistic image can sometimes be left to speak for itself, but more usually it develops a narrative in conjunction with a written text; a comingling, in other words, of photography and journalism. Photojournalism is the lifeblood of the daily press, but it is associated predominantly with the rise of dedicated photo magazines and their preference for the so-called "photo-essay".

Photojournalism deals with important, or newsworthy, subject matter, and its two overarching themes are world events and social injustice. Given, moreover, that photojournalists are usually committed to exposing wrongs, photojournalism is predicated on an unwritten code of practice that states that - if it is to adhere to the very highest standards of journalistic objectivity - the image must not be staged or manipulated. These rules are easier to apply to live action photography, however, and in actual practice the codes of practice can be bent where the urgency of the situation has demanded it. And while photojournalistic images tend to be very much "of the moment," Photojournalism has become instrumental in how we have come to view the last 170 years of world history.

Key Ideas

Key Artists

Overview of Photojournalism

Detail of <i>D-Day from the Boat</i> by photojournalist Herman V. Wall.

The role of the photojournalist can be incredibly dangerous. More than 1,000 photojournalists have died internationally since 1992 as they risk attack, retribution and kidnap to present the world with powerful images from the front line of conflict and danger.

Important Art and Artists of Photojournalism

Robert Fenton: Valley of the Shadow of Death, April 23, 1855 (1885)

Valley of the Shadow of Death, April 23, 1855 (1885)

Artist: Robert Fenton

Fenton's image, which depicts a ravine in a desolate landscape beneath a bleak empty sky, is populated only with cannonballs. Strewn along the road on the right, and filling the ditch between the road and two paths on the left, the cannonballs are meant to represent British casualties of the Crimean war. The perspective of the photograph, looking up toward the sloping hills and around the incline of the road, captures something of the sense of hopelessness at being trapped in a valley under enemy fire from above. As Fenton described it: "the sight passed all imagination: round shot and shell lay like a stream at the bottom of the hollow all the way down, you could not walk without treading upon them."

This barren war landscape would have resonated with the British national consciousness. Most had heard the story of "The Charge of the Light Brigade," an elite cavalry unit that sustained heavy casualties when ordered to charge through the Valley of the Shadow of Death toward fortified Russian artillery on October 25, 1854. The event was commemorated in a poem of the same title by Alfred Lord Tennyson, the poet laureate. The location in this photograph is of a similar but different ravine, and the image came to represent the heroism and tragedy of war.

It transpired, however, that Fenton photographed the ravine on two separate occasions. Subsequently, controversy developed as to whether some of the cannonballs were placed to make a better second image. Thus, while the image remains of great historical significance, it is also attended by the issue of authenticity which underscores all judgements on the value of Photojournalism.

Timothy H. O\'Sullivan: A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1863 (1863)

A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1863 (1863)

Artist: Timothy H. O'Sullivan

This image, possibly the best known of Brady's Civil War photographs, depicts dead soldiers scattered on the battlefield after the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place between July 1-3, 1863. The photograph was included in Alexander Gardner's, Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866), with text that read: "it was, indeed, a 'harvest of death' that was presented; hundreds and thousands of torn Union and rebel soldiers - although many of the former were already interred - strewed the now quiet fighting ground." The image was preceded by Gardner's hope that "Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity."

During the Civil War, though photographs were taken of the dead, sometimes even in the stages of decomposition, newspapers and journals refused to publish them. It was only in books like Gardner's that the images were available to the public. Viewers, used to heroic depictions of war presented in paintings, were shocked by images like this one. The collected works showed the power of photography to depict history in the making. As The New York Times said of the book, "The faithful camera [...] has written the true history of the war."

John Thomson: The Crawlers (1877)

The Crawlers (1877)

Artist: John Thomson

This picture depicts a destitute middle-aged woman holding a sleeping child on her lap, as she rests on a doorstep. The Crawlers was intended to communicate the dire situation of London's poor and to advocate a call for social change. The image was one of 36 published in Street Life in London (1877) with the writer Adolphe Smith Headingly's text relating the story of how the woman, through circumstances beyond her control, "descended penniless into the street." Using photographs to uphold the arguments presented by the text, the book helped pioneer the concept of the photo-essay.

Thomson and Smith were both social reformers and hoped that their work would convince their readers that homelessness was "often, the result of unfortunate circumstances and accident." The image conveys the woman's exhaustion and also her solicitude for the child. In their introduction to the book, the co-authors championed "the precision of photography" and its ability to "present true types of the London poor and [to] shield us [the authors] from accusations of either underrating or exaggerating individual peculiarities of appearance."

More Important Art
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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Photojournalism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 25 Mar 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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