This week, I’ve been obsessed with the news that the Chicago Sun Times has laid off its corps of photojournalists. Their reasoning, apparently is because “the business is changing” and “readers want more videos with their news.” (Rob Hart, one of the photojournalists who was laid off, says he was “replaced by a reporter with an iPhone,” and in a stroke of brilliance, he has started a photoblog chronicling his life with … an iPhone. They are beautiful shots, and it’s proof that it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.)
I’m not a photojournalist, but man, I love photojournalism. I love the idea of photography as a way of witnessing, and honing your photography skills to tell an entire story in just a single shot, a single frame. When I shared my dismay on Facebook, asking for friends to “please reassure me that photojournalism and SLR photography isn’t dying,” one friend immediately responded: “I take heart that organizations like National Geographic still appreciate photos better than the average Instagram. I think this is just more evidence that newspapers are dying.”
From your lips to God’s ears, friend.
The thing is that a truly gifted photojournalist is often able to tell their stories no matter what tool they us — an expensive SLR, an iPhone or a video camera. The talent lies in composition of the photo story and manipulation of light — skills that, for the most part, the average reporter or person on the street is not mindful of when they take their cameraphone out to capture an image.
It’s a shame that the Chicago Sun-Times no longer values these skills.
To show examples of what I’m talking about, I’d love to share with you the work of some of my favourite photojournalists — people who, I’m happy and proud to say, are folks I consider real life friends:
My friend Stephanie Roberts conveys more emotion in one photograph than I feel like I can capture in my entire body of work. In addition to her still images, she does wonderful video work, and this is one of my favourite things she’s ever done, interviewing a young musician in Rwanda.
Then there’s Ryan Youngblood, the official videographer on my trip to Ethiopia and a relatively new friend. He claims he’s not a photographer (he totally is), but I don’t care: his imagery is astounding.
And then, there’s the amazing Xanthe Berkeley. Xanthe also has this amazing facility for light and storytelling, but I think what I love about her is that she proves you don’t have to go to a developing country in order to create compelling images and tell resonating stories. She has recently started putting together time capsules — basically, they’re photojournalistic films made of stills and video that tell quiet, beautiful stories. Here’s one she did on 12.12.12.
Photojournalism dead? I don’t think so. Not as long as there are talented folks like these to keep reminding us what real photojournalism is all about.
(Incidentally, if you’d like to hone your own photojournalism skills, Xanthe offers several courses teaching you how to capture your own stories with a photojournalistic eye. You should check them out.)
What about you — do you have any favourite photojournalists? Are there any photographs you’ve seen that you felt told more of a story than words could?