It's time we
stepped back for a better perspective on photojournalism. It's an
individual art existing in a corporate environment. Throughout the
industrial/commercial world, workers try to introduce some creativity
into their routine activities while photojournalists have the opposite
problem. Photojournalists are in a creative occupation, working
under pressure to routinize their work. This is difficult because
the photographer's mind, psyche and wherewithal are in their images.
A photo is unique and will always be a part of the photographer.
corporate buyers see photos as raw material, a commodity. All those
psychic strings between the photographer and image are invisible
from the corporate viewpoint. In contrast, if a car manufacturer
buys steel, it's an outright purchase. The steel producer doesn't
expect a royalty based on the car sales, or to follow the car and
get a cut of each resale. Editors wonder, "Why can't we buy photos
like we buy ink, by the pound?"
have never accepted journalism as a manufacturing industry, Newsrooms
are a factory with workers enhancing the raw material coming in.
After almost 200 years, the industrial model may seem the only way
to accomplish a professional group task, but it's not. There are
democracy is a better model. A think tank or monastery may be better
models. A shop, a bazaar, a commune, a tribal village, even a potluck
dinner may be better model. Don't laugh at the potluck dinner. It's
a lot more innovative than rearranging the newsroom furniture and
calling it "pods." For a potluck, everyone brings their best dish
and all consume what they need. Why not organize a newsroom this
way? The staff individually finds the best news they can and bring
it to the 'feedroom" for the nourishment of the audience in a cafeteria
setting. If you think I'm being silly, you are locked in obsolete
If you have
trouble with the potluck idea, think about doctors. Photographers
share a lot with doctors. We each work with several subjects per
day and must be physically and emotionally ready for each. We must
interact with these subjects and accomplish something. Each subject
is different, but if rushed, we can fall back on standard treatment
while hoping to do better later. Photographers and doctors recent
histories are similar. Doctors used to be individuals who utilized
their training and personality to derive a personal style. Doctors
and photographers were virtually autonomous in an industrial society.
Doctors were introduced to the Industrial Revolution with HMOs and
tighter insurance directives. Good doctors try, but watch closely
on your next visit. Watch for all the efforts to make your visit
an assembly line affair. (The work is efficiently divided between
doctor, nurse, aid, clerk, etc.) When you get back to the newsroom,
turn this observation on your own professional environment. Are
you on an assembly line or are you an individual craftsperson/artist?
met the industrial revolution in a push-pull effect. Photo editors
were the instrument to push the Industrial Revolution into the photo
department. Before, photographers managed to be autonomous craftpersons.
Now, there is a division of labor right in the photo department.
Many gifted photo editors broadened photographers and photography
through nurturing, sympathetic relations and understanding of the
vagaries of photography, but it was still an industrial concept,
a fundamental change. It brought the corporate weight into an area
the photographer had never shared. The result, the photographer
is a cog in the machine. The pull was pulling raw images away from
the photographer. The history of photography is a history of photographers
controlling their images from click to print. Digital technology
allows "original" images to be public around the newsroom, making
"original" meaningless. What would reporters say if they had to
turn in their notepads and head out for another story? It's an unnatural
division of creative labor.
As you look
around, the Industrial Revolution seems to be the only way to achieve
group tasks but it's only one model that may prove historically
brief. Farmers have worked differently for eons. Creative workers
were not organized to tasks before the Industrial Revolution became
the model. The assembly line created a need for precision integration
of tasks. You can smelt, melt, pound and contort metal but you can't
do it to ideas. The industrial model is simply not the best structure
to gather, synthesize and deliver information because, in information
delivery, the worker can't be separated from the product. Information
delivery depends absolutely on the independent creative and intellectual
capacity of the individuals participating. Hierarchies distort this
process. Journalists like to talk about objectivity but it's impossible
to separate the observation, synthesizing and delivery of the message
from the person doing it. Ask any communication authority outside
If an editor,
who is not there, who is dependent on sources with their own agendas,
directs the field journalist, how do you expect to get news out
of that relationship? We have wasted years covering pseudo events
arranged for our and others' convenience. The first tragedy is,
this system seems to work. Media companies are very profitable.
Audiences think they are being informed. The second tragedy is individual
creative effort is hushed by this system. Too much efficiency destroys
the message in journalism. It's the individuality of a creative
staff that produces an exciting news product.
and convergence may be a new age of freedom of expression, or stark
regimentation. It all depends on which twist the future takes. Will
creative control expand or will the work expand? The essence of
the Industrial Revolution was to divide jobs into segments easily
taught to the farmers brought into the factory. The key was non-thinking
obedience. Platypus may go the opposite direction by creating an
autonomous craftsperson/artist, or, extend the Industrial Revolution
by creating ever-busy lackeys.
were lucky. They avoided the Industrial Revolution for years. They
managed to perform as craftspersons right in the middle of this
industrially-organized newspaper. They had their little workshop
called a darkroom. They worked on their product until it was ready
and offered it to the market (newsroom.) This was tolerated because
no one understood photography, they worked with words. Editors and
reporters wrote words, edited them, etc. They had to "buy" the product
of those craftspeople in the darkroom.
camera changed all of this. Auto focus and exposure removed the
mystery. It brought photographers into the Industrial Revolution.
A photo was no longer the final product, a print. It was part of
the final product, the publication. Even the photo was divided.
The click moment, the image selection moment and the print moment
Now, this new
moment of technological convergence offers an alternative. Photographers
can be craftspeople/artists again. They can produce the entire product
... still, video, sound, narration, even on-camera. In a way, this
is a return to the craft age after a brief visit to the industrial
This is wonderful,
except for one detail. Throughout the history of buying and selling,
in ancient and modern bazaars and markets, the buyer and seller
were functionally and economically equal. If you bargain at garage
sales, you know what I'm talking about. You and the seller want
the transaction to happen. And, it does happen, when each reaches
that secret moment of being satisfied with the deal. In a supermarket,
you never meet the person who set the price.
today is buyer and seller are not equal. It's a corporation vs.
an individual craftsperson, sort of like the king riding up to the
cottage of a cobbler. Something must equalize the buyer-photographer
relationship. ASMP equalized the relationship for years by setting
minimum rates which magazines and corporate clients respected. Higher
fees could be negotiated, but the minimum guaranteed a fair return
on time and talent. That model may or may not work again. Medieval
craft guilds controlled prices by limiting the number who practiced
a particular craft. This is not possible today. The opposite has
happened. Watch a wedding photographer tripping over a gaggle of
amateurs. Or, watch a colleague hiding in a gaggle of amateurs at
a concert or political appearance.
photographers shooting for publication in print, web, cable, etc.,
only one thing will change the dynamic of photojournalism. THE PHOTOGRAPHER
MUST CONTROL THE INITIAL CREATIVE IMPULSE TO CREATE AN IMAGE, FROM
CONCEPT TO EXPOSURE TO IMAGE SELECTION. When this happened in the
past, photography soared.
are hot topics today, but photographers really want the freedom
to create their own images. Photographers want to fully participate
in their art as did their idols, the FSA photographers, W. Eugene
Smith and others. Those FSA photos became icons because the photographers,
though strongly directed, were on their own when they photographed.
is practiced today as an other-directed art. If photographers created
their own photographs from scratch, they would truly own their product.
The sad part is, I don't think this generation of photographers
is capable of this. Today's photographers, in their training, in
their work and in their thinking, have accepted this model of other-directed
to conform to this obedience role, photography is fundamentally
at odds with today's industrial economy. Industrial products are
successful because they are all the same. Photos are successful
because they are different. Only photographers can fight for this
difference which is the essence of the photographic art.
MUST fight for their position in this environment. If your mind
is filled with assignments, equipment, the digital revolution, getting
a better image tomorrow, the photographer/buyer rates-and-rights
wars, you're absent from your own cultural revolution. The rates-and-rights
war is an all-around failure to see this controversy as a cultural
clash between the craft/artist mentality and the corporate/industrial
viewpoint. It is the very definition of what we do that is at stake.