In this blog post I identify the main points that I relate to and am prepared to elaborate on in my own symposium. Introduction Ritchin introduces by asking a number of questions of the reader regarding what we want from the media revolution, what should be changed and what should be expected from the photojournalist in modern times. However Ritchin addresses the capability of digital photography to liberate the photographer to create other forms of imagery which would be explored in the text. Evaluation: The ideas in this introduction are relative to the ideas explored by David Campbell on power, narrative and responsibility in his interview for Phonar. Campbell stressed the idea that an image is stronger with context and not only this but we as individuals need context to construct a comprehensive view of the world around us.
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In late May, the Chicago Sun-Times took the unprecedented move of gutting its photography department by laying off 28 full-time employees , including John H. White, a year veteran who had won the paper a Pulitzer. Even when I shoot video and stills on an assignment, with the same camera, both tend to suffer. They require different ways of thinking. During Hurricane Sandy, Time turned over its Instagram feed to five photographers who delivered an eerie, often radiant record of the storm and its aftermath.
In his new book Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen , photographer Fred Ritchin tackles these developments and more as he explores what the digital revolution means for his trade. Ritchin also cofounded PixelPress , a website devoted to helping humanitarian groups develop innovative media projects. Bending the Frame is a vigorous wake-up call to photojournalists to innovate or die.
Interspersed throughout the interview are examples of photographic projects that he considers particularly innovative or audacious. Fred Ritchin: The layoffs ask: What does a professional photojournalist do that others cannot? Depicting photo opportunities as if they are authentic, covering press conferences, or making subjects play their assigned roles the poor as passive victims, celebrities as glamorous are hardly adequate responses.
In fact, these might be reasons to ask for the help of amateurs who do not know how to stylize their imagery and are not interested in making a publication seem more palatable to its potential consumers. There is enormous need for professionals who know how to tell stories with narrative punch and nuance, who can work proactively and not just reactively, and whose approach is multi-faceted.
But I certainly hope that many visual journalists will be hired or funded along the way as well—we urgently need their perspectives.
Will that change how reporters approach stories? FR: There are very few instances where writers have also been effective image makers—different skill sets are required. I do not expect this experiment to be very successful unless these reporters can be trained to evolve into multimedia journalists; word, image, and sound all must have primacy in the development of the narrative. MJ: Have the ethics of photojournalism changed in the age of the smartphone? FR: Photojournalism has become a hybrid enterprise of amateurs and professionals, along with surveillance cameras, Google Street Views, and other sources.
We need curators to filter this overabundance more than we need new legions of photographers. The ethics, to answer your question, have certainly changed: Many who are making cellphone images are advocates with a stake in the outcome of what they are depicting.
In some ways this makes their work more honest and easier to read—they can also manipulate, although the work of professionals can be quite manipulative as well. Does this hunger for real-time documentation and sharing affect the quality of photojournalism?
FR: There is room for all kinds of points of view. Certainly everyone should be encouraged to weigh in on their own experiences of a massive storm or other such disruptions, but not everyone is qualified to explain how such storms fit into climate change, or what needs to be done to try and prevent or minimize future disasters on this scale.
Nicaragua, MJ: You argue that we can appreciate the democratization of social media without having to consider every image successful. What defines a successful image on, say, Instagram? FR: We have a long history of snapshot photography that appeared to many to be more arbitrary and idiosyncratic than much of the work of professionals. The same happens with social media when the person making the imagery is engaged with what is happening around him or her, rather than simply trying to stylize the image for effect or compete with others to show how their life is, or appears to be, more exciting.
MJ: Google Glass promises real-time video sharing, and Instagram recently introduced video capabilities. Do you see video supplanting photography as the visual medium of choice for journalists? Multimedia is not more media, but the employment of various kinds of media and hybrid media for what they each offer to advance the narrative.
The inherent non-linearity of the digital also allows for more input from others, including the subject and reader as collaborators. The top-down, bedtime-style story is of limited use. A non-linear narrative that allows for increased complexity and depth, and encourages both subject and reader to have greater involvement, will eventually emerge more fully from the digital environment. This, in a sense, is the more profound democratization of media. MJ: As a magazine photo editor, what did you value in a shot?
How did you balance the aesthetic with the need to illustrate or inform? Photographs are not there to show us the world, but to show us a version of what may be happening. The ideal scenario is one in which the reader is motivated enough to become actively engaged in establishing the meaning of the imagery. MJ: Is contemporary photojournalism more about daredevilry and showmanship than nuanced storytelling?
FR: In recent years the tendency has been to elevate the messenger over the message, a strategy which effectively keeps their more painful imagery at a distance.
The courage of the photographer is celebrated while the circumstances of his or her subjects becomes somewhat secondary. As a result the photograph becomes less of a window onto the world and more of a mirror reflecting the distorted priorities of the culture consuming the imagery. Former Marine infantry Sgt. Jeff Gramlich with his family in Buffalo, New York.
MJ: Who are some news photographers—or media outlets—that take substantial aesthetic risks? FR: In the early days of print magazines during the lates and the s, publications like Vu and Regards emerged in which the formal elements were designed to amplify the messages of the photographs, often in idiosyncratic and even astonishing ways. One had to read the visual elements of the two-page spread and not just rely on the captions to establish the meaning of the photographs.
Then, more pre-formatted magazines such as Time and Newsweek appeared that emphasized the photograph for its content without significantly playing with the design of the page. Certainly many photographers push the envelope in terms of form, but one is more likely to see their work in books and galleries than in news publications. How can we rally people around photos of less momentous or charged events? As far as the general public is concerned, is photojournalism just disaster porn?
Since most of our respondents lived far from New York, we had many compelling metaphorical uses of imagery—a series of large-format photographs that showed only dust, an empty bench from a Swedish photographer, a multimedia piece showing an eternal flame with an endless column of posters of the missing, etc. This was far from disaster porn; it was often intense, a form of grieving. Certainly people can rally around all kinds of causes and events from climate change to gun violence, and they do.
MJ: Many of the most consequential issues of our time—climate change, genetic modification, economic disparity, global population growth—remain relatively underrepresented in photography. What needs to happen for this to change?
One cannot always summarize such massive issues by looking at the life of one person or one family, or even one community. We also have to be more creative in using digital photography, which is code-based, to explore issues of our own code, DNA, and that of plants and animals, in ways that analog photography, with its concentration on the phenotype, has been unable to do.
There are enormous possibilities for mapping data visually, for exploring hypotheticals, for working on solutions rather than just showing the problems. MJ: How would you describe the differences between recent photojournalism from Afghanistan and Iraq and that from the first Gulf War? Was government involvement or oversight different?
FR: During recent wars, photographers have been embedded with restrictions placed upon the kinds of imagery that they could distribute, while during the first Gulf War they were largely kept away from the conflict.
Both systems are highly flawed. It is no accident that so much of the most important work by photographers has been on veterans as they return to the United States—one has more freedom in how one photographs. What do you see as the responsibility of an American photographer working to raise awareness or aid in a foreign country? FR: The ideal relationship is for the photographer to work on an extensive documentary project if they can find the financial support , and then for an NGO to find that there is a shared interest in that particular region or issue.
There may be short-term gains but a long-term loss of credibility. Is the slideshow format dead? FR: The slideshow is not dead nor about to die, but it should not be the default mode of presenting images. When we worked on PixelPress we never used a content management system; we tried to design each project on its own terms so as to make it the most articulate possible.
This is by far the best way to work with imagery although certainly not the cheapest. MJ: Speaking of cost, given the glut of affordable freelance and agency photography, what is the incentive for publishers to send photographers on assignment? FR: The incentive is simple: to uncover that which is authentic and important, and to share it with the readers in a compelling manner. MJ: The photos throughout this interview are examples of projects that you find particularly innovative.
What do you like about them? FR: They make the reader think, rather than recycling the same kinds of images. What does it feel like to be a veteran stateside but still concerned about snipers? What does a prisoner choose to eat just before being put to death—what does it say about the person, the institution, and the larger society?
What if soldiers and the battlefront were shown as if in a family album, rather than as distanced and outsized, and discussions were invited from family members, as happened in Basetrack? What if images of a previous conflict, in this case the Sandinista revolution, are shown outdoors in the places where the events occurred so that a younger generation has to confront a history that may have remained somewhat remote—and does that encourage reflection from others around the planet who may be oblivious of their own histories?
MJ: What is the relationship between good citizenship and photography? FR: Citizen journalism is not only sending in comments and making images with cell phones, but also supporting good journalism, including photography, made by others so as to help all of us better understand what is going on in our world.
Citizen journalism is not only the right to self-express, but the right to act like a citizen and not a consumer. For more, check out these photo essays:.
Fred Ritchin – Bending The Frame
Ritchin is a prolific author and curator, focusing on digital media and the rapid changes occurring in photography. He wrote the first book on the impact of digital imaging on photography, In Our Own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography Aperture, , , , which was followed by two more books on the future of imaging in the digital era, After Photography W. Ritchin is also the founding director of PixelPress, an organization that has published multimedia projects experimenting with virtual and non-linear photojournalistic and documentary work. PixelPress has collaborated with many humanitarian organizations on issues such as a global attempt to end polio , progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals , the promulgation and explanation of the crimes of war, and the photographic vision of children in a Rwandan orphanage. PixelPress also featured an online publication combining documentary and new media strategies, including a collaboration with photographer Gilles Peress for the New York Times first multimedia piece, entitled Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace,  which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in public service in
Bending The Frame, Fred Ritchin – my summary
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