Reportage Festival, Sydney (2)
The panel discussed the impact of citizen journalism on the industry. New technology such as camera phones has allowed unsuspecting everyday people to document news events by virtue of having a camera in their pocket on standby, ready to capture a dramatic moment when it occurs. This “home movie” style and often grainy, raw footage has increasingly been embraced by mainstream media outlets when professional footage is not available. The polished, perfect and high-resolution photos of the professionals appear staged/surreal in comparison, and thus, ironically, the readership are questioning the authenticity of professional photographers.
The ethical dilemmas faced by photojournalists and their editors are many shades of grey and when it comes down to it, it’s a question of creditability versus influence. One side argues that manipulation of a photograph can be as simple as taking a colour picture and making it black and white; this may be to give the photo an air of timelessness, or may be for the benefit of the viewer, particularly if the content is graphic in nature and thus changing the colour makes it more palatable.
It is curious that the discussion keeps coming back to September 11. It is as if photojournalists believe that the image poignancy and newsworthiness of 9/11 was the final summit, the Mecca, and nothing will ever surpass it so therefore everything that comes before or after need only be compared to it.
Dr Ian Jackson finished the first session with one of the most iconic images of September 11, the falling man shot by professional photographer Richard Drew. It is well documented that this photograph is just one from a sequence shot of this man falling to his death. The selected image is by far the most elegant and peacefully surreal – the others being crude, angular and obviously disturbing. Jackson finished with this to prove that image manipulation and the editing process are synonymous.
The Falling Man by Richard Drew
The next topic to be broached was that of embedded journalists. Usually attachment to a specific military unit is the only way for photojournalists to given access to zones of conflict. The military uses journalists as an instrument of propaganda, controlling their access and therefore what they see and the stories they report. This is old news of course but still very relevant and it must not be overlooked that most members of modern society are not cognisant of this truth. John Moore, of Getty images, was invited to speak at the second session, being a long serving war photographer and his relationship to the media through Getty images.
On the day of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Moore, who was stationed in Islamabad, was the only American journalist present (his shocking images winning a World Press Photo Award last year). He spoke of the serendipity of being able to visually document this significant political event and have his images serve as retelling the story of Bhutto’s death and the aftermath that followed. Moore also spoke of working together with the military in capturing and covering more objective stories of conflict. While being on the frontline is arguably the best position to get the action shots a traditional war photographer is after, hopefully this won’t have to mean constant censorship by the military machine in future.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, John Moore/Getty Images