What is photojournalism?
Photojournalism is using images to communicate the news. Since the
mid-nineteenth century, it has shaped the way millions of people see the world
(Stewart 2017). Will photojournalism be
the only credible source of images of world culture in years to come? (Newton,
2013) Photojournalism is a term constructed
by Frank Luther Mott; he was a Historian and Dean of the University of Missouri
School of Journalism. (Collins 2018)
One of the main differences between photojournalism and other
forms of photography is that the subject has no say in how the photographs are
constructed or used. (Towne, 2012)
In the early stages of Photojournalism, War Photography and
Photojournalism had a strong link. Photojournalism only developed due to the improvements
in technology. Early Photographs were
printed using engravings. The Illustrated London News was the first publication
to make use of the technology available. (Stewart 2017).
The American Civil war was one of the first wars to be
captured on camera. A man called Mathew Brady received permission from
President Lincoln to travel to the battle sites to photograph the brutality and
horror of war. Due to technological limitations, Brady could not photograph his
subjects in motion. (Stewart 2017).
The second half of the nineteenth century saw a shift of
focus in photojournalism. Its main focus was no longer on War and Disaster
Photos. For example, a man named John Thomson along with journalist Adolphe
Smith depicted the life of people on the streets of London. From 1876 to 1877,
Street Life in London revolutionized the field as images were used instead of
words as the dominant means of storytelling. (Stewart 2017).
The invention of the Leica 35mm Camera has revolutionized
Photojournalism. This is known as the Golden Age of photojournalism. (Stewart
2017). New inventions along with
greater public interest pushed photojournalism to new heights. It occurred
between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. There are many famous photographers during
the Golden age such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks. Before
this, a photograph of professional quality required bulky equipment but the
invention of the Leica camera meant photographers could capture photos anywhere
at anytime. This meant that photographs were no longer staged or posed.
(Brennen and Hardt, 1999) The new invention allowed photographers to capture
events as they really happened.
Photojournalism became more portable than ever.
Photojournalism magazines were developed at the beginning of
the nineteenth century. The life Magazine was one of the most famous
photojournalism magazines of its time. Henry Luce founded life magazine. The
pictorial life magazine was launched on November 23rd, 1936; Luce truly
believed the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words”- Frederick R.
Barnard. He believed there was limited need for the use of words in Life
magazine. (History as it Happened, 2007)
The first cover of the magazine depicted the Fort Peck Dam
in Montanna by Margaret. Bourke.White. The magazine made history as it was as
it portrayed political problems and issues through the visual form of
photographs. From 1936 to 1972 Life’s covers portrayed the largest news stories
of the 20th century (Rothman and Ronk, 2016). It depicted the horrors of World War
II and the assassination of President Kennedy. The most remarkable trait of
LIFE magazine is the fact that it covered the biggest news stories through
photography alone. (Rothman and Ronk, 2016)
Life had a small lifespan of thirty-seven years, however, it
made an extraordinary impact during this time. (History as it Happened, 2007).
Women became leading figures in the Golden age of
Photojournalism. The first American female war reporter was called Margaret
Bourke-White. (Stewart 2017). As
previously mentioned she become the first photographer of the first ever LIFE
cover. (Rothman and Ronk, 2016) Dorothea Lange is responsible for one of the
most renowned photographs that documented The Great Depression. It is known as
“Migrant Mother”. The photograph depicts a young “desperate” and “hungry”
mother surrounded by her children. The women look past the camera with worn and
worried eyes. Lange photographed over
160,000 thousand images for the Resettlement Administration but the “Migrant
Mother” stands alone as one of the most iconic photographs of it’s time.
(Rothman and Ronk, 2016)
Ironically major attention to photojournalism only took off
in the late 1960’s and 1970’s when photography was beginning to fade as one of
the major modes of mass media. Television began to rise in popularity and
photography began to fall. Leading to the closure of major photojournalism
magazines such as LOOK in 1971 and LIFE in 1972. However, as television grew in
popularity critics began to discuss the impact of photojournalism. Examples
include Pierre Bourdieu’s early work on photography as a Middle-brow Art (1965)
to John Berger’s series of books on pictorial communication. This is sometimes
referred to as a period of “High Modernism” for photography scholarship.
Photojournalism began to move away from magazines and more towards art
galleries and museums (Brennen and
Cartier-Bresson had a huge social impact on photojournalism.
Bresson is famous for his phrase ” the
decisive moment” This is captured in one of his most famous photographs
depicting a man leaping a millisecond before his foot hits the puddle. This
photo was only achievable due to the invention of the Leica 35 mm camera.
Photojournalism has changed over time due to technological
and social impacts. In the early stages of Photojournalism, the authenticity of
a photo could always be guaranteed. However today with Photoshop widely
available the authenticity of the photo cannot be guaranteed. For example, the
winner of World Press Photo competition in 2015 prize was revoked when the
photographer summited wrong captions of his work. The photographer cited wrong
locations of his photos. (Kordic, 2015) Even the paparazzi’s pursuit of
Princess Diana on the night of her death caused people to question the practice
In the 21st century, photojournalism faces new challenges.
The book “The Burden of Visual Truth: The Role of Photojournalism in Mediating
Reality” By Julianne Newton ask a very important question ” Will image-making
technologies and public cynicism lead to its demise, or will journalists rise
to the challenge by practicing a new, more credible form of visual journalism”
Photojournalism faces new threats from new technology and
even more troubling the decline of public belief in the visual truth. (Newton,
2013) The line between truth and deception in this visual media has become very
blurry. Due to the ability of
photojournalists to manipulate their photographers, it has become harder and
harder to for the public to accept photographs as the truth. (Newton, 2013)
However, photojournalism is emerging once again as a
compelling form of visual media. The true purpose of photojournalism is to
report human experiences in an honest and ethical way. (Newton, 2013)
In today’s society to own a camera is in no way unique or
different. If a photographer wants to be noticed they must be extraordinary.
Our smartphones are an extension of our bodies turning us all into amateur
photographers documenting our daily lives. Photojournalist Benjamin Lowy
embraced the use of his iPhone to capture photos. This innovating thinking was
rewarded with the cover of Time magazine in 2012. (Stewart, 2017) Today the
role of the photographer has changed; they must capture what the average human
eye cannot see. Social media platforms have affected photojournalism in both
positive and negative ways. The average
smartphone camera cannot match the quality of a professional camera, however,
the one advantage social media users have over photojournalist is people power.
In a matter of seconds, thousands of people can view and share an image.
One new source of journalism is Citizen journalism. In the technological age in which we live
nearly everybody possesses a camera phone. This means people can capture events
the moment they happen. For example, CNN uses amateur footage when breaking
news stories. However, Citizen photography can be criticised for its lack of
substance and quality. There is still a need for the photojournalist to capture
new stories. (Towne, 2012)
Alfred Eisenstaedt a famous photojournalist took one of the
most iconic photos of the 20th century. It is known as V-J Kiss in Times
Square. New York City. It signified the joyous moment World War II had ended.
To conclude Photojournalism is about capturing true emotions
in a single photo. Due to the improvements in technology photojournalism has
thrived. Without the invention of the
Leica, camera photographers would have never been able to get to the heart of
the photograph. The main purpose of photojournalism is to capture a single
moment in time. (Masoner, 2017) The photojournalist is not the author, they are
only telling the story.
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Accessed 2 Jan. 2018.
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Available at: https://www.lightstalking.com/a-brief-history-of-photojournalism/
Accessed 5 Jan. 2018.
Kordic, A. (2015). Modern
Photography – From Early Days to Photojournalism and New Visions. online
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https://www.widewalls.ch/modern-photography-photojournalism/ Accessed 3 Jan.
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of LIFE Magazine. online Available at:
https://historyasithappened.wordpress.com/2007/10/15/7/ Accessed 4 Jan. 2018.
Rothman, L. and
Ronk, L. (2016). LIFE Magazine Launched 80 Years Ago. Here’s How It Covered
History. online Time.com. Available at:
http://time.com/4570265/80th-anniversary-life-magazine/ Accessed 4 Jan. 2018.
Goldberger, B., Dyer, G. and Von
Drehle, D. (n.d.). 100 photographs.
Brennen, B. and
Hardt, H. (1999). Picturing the past. Urbana: University of Illinois
Masoner, L. (2017). How
Can Photojournalism Shape Society?. online The Spruce. Available at:
5 Jan. 2018.
Grayam, L. (2009). Henri
Cartier-Bressons “Decisive Moment” by Larry Grayam. online
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Accessed 5 Jan. 2018.