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 & Accomplishments
- At basis, Photojournalism performs an important civic duty. Based on the premise that one always trusts the evidence of one's own eyes, it is Photojournalism's job to inform the public by showing the world "how it is in reality." The image, therefore, confirms the content of any accompanying written text (or vice-versa indeed).
- It is true that some exceptional photojournalists have achieved the status of "artists" - Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein for instance - but typically Photojournalism does not sit comfortably within the sphere of modern art photography. Photojournalists are more likely to earn the respect of their peers and the public as intrepid buccaneers willing to put their own safety at risk in order to capture the truest images.
- Since they can both aim at exposing social and/or humanitarian injustices, Photojournalism can certainly qualify as Documentary Photography. But unlike documentary, photojournalism tends to be investigative and unrehearsed. Photojournalism relies very much on an opportunistic snapshot principle for its effect whereas Documentary Photography is more typically the result of planning and considered composition.
- The photojournalist seeks to capture a moment - or a split second (the "decisive moment" as Henri Cartier-Bresson called it) - that would have, without their daring and endeavour, gone unnoticed. There is then sometimes a guerrilla element to photojournalism, especially so where the photojournalist is operating incognito or within a war zone.
Overview of Photojournalism
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 Photos and Artists of Photojournalism
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.
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."
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."
Useful Resources on Photojournalism
- 136k viewsPower of Photojournalism 1/2By Reynolds Journalism Institute
- 204k viewsMagnum Photos -The Changing of a Myth
- PhotojournalismOur PickBy the Getty
- 0 viewsHenri Cartier-Bresson "Pen, Brush and Camera" 1998 Full Length
- 134k viewsD-Day: Behind Robert Capa's Photo Of Normandy Beach | 100 Photos | TIMEOur Pick
- 48k viewsRobert Capa - the rare 1947 radio interview
- 6k viewsMargaret Bourke=White: Great Woman Photographer
- 136k viewsJosef Koudelka: The Art of PhotographyOur Pick
- 5k viewsArthur Rothstein: photography, art and propaganda in The New Deal
- 17k viewsChim: UNICEF's first international photographer
- 13k viewsPhotography of Timothy H. O'Sullivan
- 68 viewsChina Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 An OverviewBy GW Museum and Textile Museum
- 44k viewsMatthew Brady's VisionBy Smithsonian Magazine
- Photojournalism: 150 Years of Outstanding Press PhotographyBy Rueul Golden
- Robert Capa: The Definition EditionBy Richard Whelam
- Mathew Brady: Illustrated History of the Civil WarBy Mathew Brady
- Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History: The Story of the Legendary Photo AgencyBy Russell Miller
- A terrible beauty: Robert FentonOur PickBy Simon Grant / By Tate Etc. / September 1, 2005
- Unraveling a 70-Year-Old Photographic MysteryOur PickBy Carole Naggar / Time magazine / Apr 12, 2017
- Chim: A Vivid Retrospective of EuropeBy Peter Van Agtmael / New York Times / Jan. 17, 2013
- Revisiting the Valley of the Shadow of DeathBy Carefully Aimed Darts / June 22, 2009
- 40 years on: the exile comes home to PragueOur PickBy Sean O'Hagan / The Guardian / August 23, 2008
- All Cameras Are Good CamerasBy John Logan / Buzzfeed / November 13, 2016
- A Life in Photography: Don McCullinBy Nicholas Wroe / The Guardian / May 21, 2010