note accompanies every photographic report by Anthony Suau,
Time's Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist who lives
partly in Paris and partly in Moscow. Over the past 9 years
he has been busy documenting the changes taking place throughout
Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall came down. His note
led to perplexity, diffidence and irony in the editorial
offices of the newspapers.
20th century can boast a significant precedent: that of
having been photographed. Almost every historical event,
scientific discovery, personage, the infinite natural disasters,
the ill-doings of mankind and even his sentiments have been
photographed. Rivers full of words have been written on
the same auspicious or inauspicious events, but all told,
the documents that persist in people's memories are photographs,
which often become the icon of an event or of a catastrophe.
In spite of this magic, little or nothing has been done
to make the work of those who gravitate around this profession,
which has been further massacred by the advent of the new
technologies, more harmonious.
camera is a different tool from a pen. It can be used to
produce an instantaneous masterpiece, to upset society with
a scoop, to amaze people with something new. Each of us
reacts to the picture on the basis of our own sensitivity,
culture, intelligence, mood and passion. What is more, the
interpretation of one and the same photograph will be different
at different times. A photograph produced today will offer
a different impact tomorrow. Even the place where the photograph
is seen can dictate our reactions. A photograph published
in a gossip weekly cannot have, a priori, the same impact
as a photograph on display in a museum or of another printed
in a sophisticated book. The environment where the photograph
appears may determine our reading of it.
I see the notes accompanying photographic reports, and the
reproduction rights of which will be sold to the papers,
I am often seized by annoyance and discouragement. Bans,
obligations, threats to invoice twice or three times. None
of this will be enough to discourage improper use of the
photograph or to make sure that the credits or explanatory
notes are properly indicated or that the context in which
the photographs or the captions accompanying them will be
respected. There are plenty of associations representing
photographers all over the world whose mission is to defend
the autonomous language of photography who drop their weapons
when they come up against the wall of indifference of the
publishers and clients that provide the assignments that
are the life-blood of the profession.
the great names are able to command respect, and this makes
the situation even worse in photographic journalism. At
times a minor incident is sufficient to cause the collapse
of a young career or to place creative potential within
the boundaries of humiliating routine. No wonder photographers
have become touchy, melancholy, taciturn and depressed characters,
needy of guidance not only from the technical and professional
point of view but also the psychological.
need for ethics to govern the world of photographs has become
essential for all those who come into contact with photography:
photographers, agents, photo editors, magazines, museums,
publishers and gallery management. The absence of these
ethics gives rise to distortions in the information and
education of young people, prevents art and beauty from
being enjoyed and turns us into victims of the worst types
in Italy the situation is made even worse by the absence
of a register of photographers or of a law safeguarding
photographic journalists. Unlike their colleagues in print
and television, photographic journalists are not protected
or even understood even by these other journalists.
first ethical decision is performed by the photographic
journalist at the very moment when he decides to tell a
story or to tell it in a given manner. The photographer
must safeguard the truth he feels he wants to convey to
the public, and he or she must safeguard the public by making
sure that their reporting is not simply based on the need
for career advancement, and safeguard their principals.
It takes great professional skill, passion and courage to
assimilate these types of behavior in such a way that they
are absolutely spontaneous. It requires great dexterity
and emotional intelligence to convey a story in visual form.
If these ingredients are lacking, it is very unlikely that
the dream and utopia of honest photographic journalism will
materialize. Photographic reporters want their talent and
their cameras to induce the public to act and think "politically,"
giving the word its noblest meaning. It is therefore obvious
that when a photographer feels that he has hit this mark,
he will perceive any distortion of his message as an affront
to his professional responsibilities.
a recent interview in the French weekly L'Express, Willy
Ronis, who has always taken sides in defense of correctness
in the use of photographs, explained how a photograph that
originally showed some strikers meeting to hear a trade
unionist talk, was published by the New York Times without
showing the representative and with a caption indicating
that the crowds were "anti-capitalist revolutionaries."
Edward Steichen maintained that it was not "artistic" photography
that mattered, but that the true mission of a photographer
was to explain one man to another man and each man to himself.
He then added: "A photograph is worth a thousand words,
provided it is accompanied by only ten words."
situation to which little consideration is given is the
peculiar relationship between the photographer and the subject.
Nadar, the great 19th Century portrait photographer, had
perceived instinctively this tiring relationship between
the rapacious "torturer" (the photographer) and his pretentious
victim (the person being photographed), and his rather comic
notes are a premonition of the problems encountered by portrait
photographers and the people photographed by them, whether
famous or not. Nadar stressed the expectations of the customers
and their vanity and openly envied his friend Etienne Carjac,
who started his career as a photographer fired by passion
rather than need. He thus claimed that the latter's results
were more significant than his own,
was not only a photographer, but also a painter and poet
and was the author of one of the most circulated photographs
in the world, a portrait of the young poet Arthur Rimbaud
that was quite recently subjected to undue manipulation
with the aim of portraying a more adult or simply more "Di
Caprified" character as on the invitation to an exhibition
dedicated to the poet.
problem of control over photographs on the part of the photographer
or of the agent who represents him is not so much financial
as it is a moral problem: safeguarding the value of the
I have been involved with photography for 40 years, and
since I was a girl I have been attracted by the reactions
caused by the publication of photographs. I am an avid reader
of daily newspapers, and one day I paused while looking
at a photograph of Rina Fort a woman who was accused of
a horrific murder published in "Il Corriere d'Informazione".
However much I tried to consider the gravity of this woman's
crime, I felt very sorry at the idea that she knew she was
being seen by everyone.
photographs which troubled me most were those of the authors
of my favorite books, offering their looks to all and sundry.
It is possible to try to dissimulate what we are and what
we feel. However only a look can, albeit only in part, betray
our emotions, our feelings and, all told, our own selves
much time has gone by since those first visual emotions.
I was thrown into the world of photography at the age of
18. No schooling, no training, many mistakes, a lot of constant
self-criticism, much soul-searching, many new rules. Everything
was new to me and was so for my whole generation. Nowadays
everyone sees everything in an instant. Digital cameras
and live television have now further changed our relationships
how should we behave when the photographs concern painful,
resigned and desperate looks? When the photographs are of
the miseries of the world due to the fault and avidity of
mankind, pictures of death, separations or up-rootings?
And why should we show suffering faces? Does it not mean
adding suffering to suffering? This is a question I have
asked myself many times during the course of my activity.
However, thanks precisely to photography, those faces, those
dead, those pains will be able to have a follow-up in our
consciences. But in order for this to be correct and moral,
it is necessary to obey a few rules, both on the part of
the photographer, who must avoid aesthetic extremism which
would stress his ability but limit reflection on the causes
of the tragedy (usually international selfishness and sinister
economic interests), and on the part of whoever publishes
the photographs. They should be motivated by the intention
of offering a honest document, choosing the truest reporting
language, and also on the part of the person receiving the
images, in an attempt to reach beyond the horror to understand
the photograph and the photographic message,
people know how to read photographs and images in general.
A recent study by Paul Messaris (Visual Literacy, ed. Westview),
stressed this shortcoming and concluded that the analysis
of the grammar of visual art makes it possible, among other
things, to enjoy visual representations and teaches us to
defend ourselves from counterfeits.
It would seem that the media have been intimidated by the
strength of photography, and that as a consequence they
have been induced to ignore it. They do not look at and
do not choose from the incredible number of images produced
by so many photographers on major stories. They prefer to
choose from among photographs published in other papers
from which the audience impact has already been tested,
and those most similar to television pictures. This means
that photographers are induced to construct scenarios and
to portray people in untruthful, almost Disney like situations.
What is more, we can no longer bear to see what we are and
instead show great appreciation for "how we used to be."
There are two reasons for this. First of all, we do not
like ourselves (television stars are destroying the most
truthful and appropriate concepts of beauty), and we do
not have the strength or the will to take steps to change
things. In the second place, photography of local news is
disheartened and homogenized. The elderly and immigrants
are an excellent example of this. Old people are split up
into two categories: the rich and the marginalized. There
are, however, a large number of dynamic and intelligent
elderly people who do not belong to either of these sub-groups
and who take an active part in life. Of these there is practically
no trace. Photographs of immigrants always allude to negative
situations. The articles accompanying the photographs are
full to the brim with arrogance and do not let their real
story show through. We never see photographs of positive
integration, and all this fosters racism and the pushing
away of the problem.
any case, photography is considered a subordinate of written
information. Photographs are met with hostility in editorial
offices and fall victim to cuts in space and attention.
If shown on television, photographs are accompanied by verbose
comments preventing any direct contact with photographic
language, which is concise, plain, dense and immediate by
its very nature. This undervalues once again the educational
power of photography which in actual fact can make the onlooker
participate in a given reality, toning down its more violent
or too involving aspects. This is because a photograph has
no smell, no voice and, like poetry, establishes direct
communication with the viewer with all the strength that
originates from its immediacy and power to synthesize. Only
the religious world understood, surprisingly early, how
to exploit the power of images for its own purposes, creating
a dangerous and somewhat ridiculous iconography, often made
of sickening little pictures with their wretched hells full
of flames for exorcising love for life.
us go back to the photographer, who has just completed a
story he appreciates for the harmony he has created between
the form and the contents. From this moment on until it
is published, his report is in danger. The films go to the
labs, the photographs have to be edited and if they are
in black and white test prints have to be chosen. Only the
photographer himself can make any cuts. The photographs
then have to be combined with the appropriate captions,
and are then sent to possible customers and, so lastly,
by the time of publication, less than 5% of photographers
declare themselves satisfied. For the others, something
or everything of their story has been lost.
whole parade of people have interceded between the incidents
that were the cause of Anthony Suau's initial statement.
Why does this happen? First of all, no training is provided
for the personnel who have to manage the photographic material:
there are no schools for picture-editors, or for filing
personnel or for iconographic research personnel. Photographs
cost too much and too little is paid for them. The distances
separating the creation of a photograph from the moment
of its publication is therefore either too long or too short.
Digital is the new menace. Taking photographs with digital
technology and then sending them off by computer? Yes, but
who checks the process, the amount of room set aside for
the report and for the title?
staff cuts in editorial departments have also led to a further
deterioration of the treatment applied to photographs, often
delegated to the secretarial department, to improvised iconographic
research personnel, to art directors and to editors in their
odd moments. The times when people could spend time on projects,
on discussions for organizing a proposal or a photographic
work have disappeared. More than quality, what is discussed
is price. What is more, during the last few years, a new
and pernicious habit has become all the rage: rather than
tackling a topic by displaying the work of a single photographer
who has approached it with dedication, there is a preference
for offering an assortment of photographs by various different
photographers. This inevitably gives rise to a language
that has nothing uniform about it and is mixed up (one photograph
in postcard style, another showing the atmosphere, others
that do not match up with the requirements of the text or
even with colors caused by the use of lighting that makes
them clash with the others), as if one wanted to supply
a "Harlequin" paper, inducing readers, who are less stupid
and unprepared than is thought, to turn over the page in
a great hurry.
is necessary also on the subject of the new technologies:
photograph scanning, digital transmission, the Internet.
Many photographers consider the advent of digital technology
a collective misfortune, which it is not possible to escape.
The digital world is here to stay. It is a world that can
the media have decided that they will admit to all their
photomontages. Unscrupulous computer manipulations can lead
to disorder and cause a few distortions of history. But
I would not worry about these simulations. They are little
games bound to disappear, because the public does not like
photomontages. Moreover, even before computers came in,
laboratory techniques had been introduced that made it possible
to touch up or clean up a photograph according to one's
needs. Nature photographers themselves, involved by definition
in the ethical aspects of photography, feel the fascination
of the computer. Thanks to the computer, the well-known
photographer Art Wolfe was able to reproduce natural situations
such as the migration of zebras, which would not have been
easy to photograph. Wolfe stressed that the result of that
situation, which does actually occur in nature, had been,
in the specific case in question, reproduced using technological
means. THE NANPA, the association of nature photographers,
and other associations are also trying to regulate the relationship
between technology and photography.
the other hand, the advantages offered by the digital world
are more than just a few:
Scanning photographs makes it possible to preserve them
better than in any other traditional records system. The
famous photographer Mary Ellen Mark has filed 18,000 photographs
Computers make it possible to show the photographic exhibitions
of up-and-coming photographers in different countries, which
otherwise could not be displayed in galleries. In addition,
it will foster the sale of photographs to collectors.
my agency, the new technologies are used to transmit photographs,
although I personally love touching a traditional black
and white print. I feel that there is no point in ignoring
what is new, and that it would be unproductive, and that
it is desirable to know how to exploit the potential of
the new means, while curbing their dangers. At the moment
there are about one hundred associations all over the world
that are concerned with these issues.
20th Century is the century of photographs. Starting from
the Second World War, the way things are displayed has changed
to a marked extent. Joy, pain, birth, death ... everything
is visible and photographers themselves no longer recognize
the limits of the permissible, beyond which their eyes,
their cameras, the final product may wound the people photographed
or the public. Experience has taught me that there are useless
photographs: the photograph of Pasolini's corpse, for instance.
It was absolutely gratuitous. On the other hand, I feel
that the photograph from when Aldo Moro's body was found
in the Renault, it had an important historical function.
The same applies to a photograph that we grew up with: the
sequence of the assination of President . Kennedy taken
by A. Zapruder. Nobody knows the absolute truth about that
attack even now, but without that document we would have
accepted passively any pre-packaged version whatsoever.
feel strong perplexities about news items. I do not agree
with the publication of photographs that celebrate private
pain, such as those showing a crowd of people in an airport
who know that they have lost their loved ones in an accident,
or people who have been arrested. I cannot bear, either,
photographs taken in courtrooms, and I appreciate the law
that exists in some American states banning the use of cameras
in courtrooms. For children in difficulty, I believe that
the law on privacy has made some proper corrections to the
excesses of past years, but care is needed. Obscuring the
face of the child is not sufficient, since even a coat can
make a person recognizable and therefore vulnerable. I felt
sorry for the life and death of Lady Diana, but I was indignant
about the unfair accusation of photographers in contributing
to her death. It is possible to escape the flashes of the
cameras. All one has to do is to avoid the St. Tropez -
Emerald Coast - Paris Ritz "paparazzi tour."
Paul Claudel gave a beautiful definition of photography
in "The Listening Eye." The key to what is permissible lies
in that way of listening that takes place every time we
prepare to listen to our own hearts, to our own experience
and to that of others. There are no limits, but rules that
have to be invented from time to time. How can they be identified?
How can photography retain its magic function of a reverent
and respectful story of the object being photographed? How
can such an obvious wish on the part of many celebrities
to be photographed constantly be fulfilled without losing
the rightful contact with their personalities? And how should
one deal with news items, a crowd of unknown people? There
are many hard and violent or soft or ironic stories I would
not like to cancel from my imagination: the immigrants in
Milan, in the arrival of the Beatles in America, the first
AIDS deaths, the first great popular concerts, the fascination
of certain first nights at the La Scala Theatre or at the
Piccolo, the Latin Quarter in the fifties, the political
demonstrations, the joyfulness of the end of the war, the
have a few answers plus some intuitions. The first, which
is also the most obvious and the most spontaneous, is that
man has to act according to his conscience, and that in
order to do so he must be inter-disciplinary. No one is
capable of understanding what he sees if he decides to cultivate
his own personal garden far from life. The first person
of whom an interdisciplinary nature is demanded is the photographer,
who must add to his training by reading constantly and by
means of constant contacts with others. What is more, the
time has come for image-reading to become a subject to be
studied starting in primary schools, as suggested by the
excellent Paola Pallottino. She recommended studying and
salvaging the iconography of the past, and that the papers
themselves should create opportunities for comments concerning
the use of photographs and of their contents in handling
far-reaching topics such as the war in Yugoslavia, and the
famine in Sudan. In the future there will be a big demand
for photography professionals, photo-shop experts, illustrators
of news stories - professions which up to now have been
improvised, without the support of any training at all.
It seems that photography is too young to be deserving of
management by specialized personnel, but 150 years are a
I would like to remember some remarks made by Michael Hoffman,
editor of Aperture, the refined photographic publishing
house in New York. This is how Hoffman summarized his ethical
code referred to the publication of photographs:
a) The picture must be proffered to the public with the
top standard of reproduction: the best inks, paper, design,
printing and editing must be used.
The picture must be published respecting the wishes of the
author, and it must be reproduced in such a way that it
does not fall victim to commercial needs, marketing trends
or outside censorship.
c) The picture must be placed in a context increasing the
ethical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual commitment
of the spectator.
intuition is what makes me hope that we are approaching
the end of this period, characterized by a lack of collective
thrust, existential stresses and a reflux towards private
life. It is only by ridding ourselves of the superficiality
that is widespread at all levels that we will be able to
undertake the path towards a change that will enhance the
value of the ethics not only of respect for images but of
all disciplines. This can only come true through a return
to the great utopias that foster creativity and the spirit
of adventure and which stimulate courageous choices characterized
by respect for others.
Neri was born in Milan. After working at Newsblitz photoagency,
she got involved in her own photography business in 1966
by representing the new born French agency Gamma that split
up a few years later and gave birth to Sygma, which she
then opted to represent instead. Since then, Grazia Neri
has enjoyed the trust of some of the most renowned photographers,
prestigious magazines and very committed agencies such as
Contact, Matrix, Network, Vu...She quite legitimely is considered
as a serious reference both for photographers and for agencies
around the world. She was for 8 years President of Gadef,
an Italian association similar to ASMP in USA that fights
to protect the photographers copyright. She is regularly
invited to take part in the juries of international competitions
such as the World Press in Amsterdam, the W. Eugene Smith
Grant and the Eisie Award. She has lectured on photojournalism
in Italy, Western and Eastern Europe as well as in USA.
She has been involved in the last few years in the curating
and organization of exhibitions in Milan, Rome, Bologna
and Verona. She is the artistic director of her own gallery
which she opened in 1997 in her home town. Amongst the photographers
for whom she has developed exhibitions are: David Burnett,
Donna Ferrato, Greg Gorman, Douglas Kirkland, Frans Lanting,
Mary Ellen Mark, Anthony Suau, David & Peter Turnley. Her
agency has been more recently involved in producing photography
books and catalogues in collaboration with some of the best
Italian publishers such as Arnoldo Mondadori and Motta Editore.
Grazia Neri is the president of the agency which bears her
name. She has a son, Michele Neri, who is the executive
director of the agency.