Photojournalism-the power of images

Photographs are powerful story tellers. Good photographs complement a story and give it an emotion. This photograph by the Tribune's Antonio Perez is a example of rendering emotion in a powerful story. It gives the story visual impact. Kira Mammoser was suffering from a rare disease with no cure. She was confined to a hospital and connected to life support systems. She loved animals, aspired to be a veterinarian, and wanted a horse. While that was not possible, something better happened. The Chicago Police Mounted Unit visited her at the hospital. Antonio Perez shot this photo. Kira Mammoser passed away shortly afterwards. Her family requested this particular photo and the Tribune sent them a copy. The photograph is a powerful visual image complementing a wonderful story.


Picture 1_edited-1

Visual imagery can drive the public to act. It was not just the story of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre that angered Chicagoans and drove politicians to get Al Capone. It was the gritty bloody photographs of the carnage that drove people to demand an end to the killing.

During the 1980s-90s, in Sicily, rival Mafia clans were at war. Pictures and news video of the bloodshed made a powerful impression on the public. They were driven to openly protest in the streets and demand the government declare war on the Mafia. Something that rarely happens on that island.

Grisly and graphic photographs coming out of Mexico of mass hangings, and decapitations, along with the mutilated torsos, are driving people to demand an end to the carnage fueled by the drug cartels. Unfortunately, as of now, the cartels are so powerful they are killing journalists and photojournalists with impunity. The threat is very real; publish and you perish.

Here is a short video I put together for an article on violence. (Warning graphic content) It was blocked from YouTube months after publication, even though these images were published in newspapers. It  was deemed" shocking". Go figure. Some of these images shocked people into action.

Photographs can elicit empathy, even for the most venal people, like photographs in the gallery from the press conference Rod Blagojevich gave the day before he went to prison. You can see the pain and resignation in Patti Blagojevich's face. (See gallery)

Photographs can make a statement, editorial or sartorial, like the photograph of Jesse Jackson during an Occupy Chicago protest. They can convey an odd juxtaposition like the Chicago Firearms and Fashion Show. (See gallery)

They can also evoke the care and passion professionals put into their craft, like the photograph of Rick Bayless preparing for a cooking demonstration and talk. (See Gallery)

Stories of war and disaster, man made or  natural would be incomplete without images. They breath life into the words on the page. They show the power of natural and human destruction that mere words cannot express. You cannot write fashion stories without photographs. Photographs bring emotion, beauty, and even ugliness to stories. They bring  humanity and nature to words on the page. National Geographic never would have lasted had it not been for photographs. Life magazine was devoted to photojournalism. Without photographs there would be no Playboy or Hugh Hefner.

After the Sun Times let their photo staff go there was a great deal of discussion on various photography sites. Many claimed excellence or the pursuit of perfection in capturing images is dying or dead in the news media. Excellence and perfection are ideals rarely met. Finesse is a better word to describe the attributes of a good photojournalist day to day; the refinement or delicacy of workmanship or craftsmanship and skillful handling of a situation or adroit maneuvering.

I spend a great deal of  time looking at photographs from various news sources. There has been a degradation in the quality of overall work over the past few years. You can tell whether a photojournalist, reporter, or amateur created the images.  There is a difference between a good news photograph and a so-called quality photograph. With technological advances in equipment people can take quality photographs with point and shoot cameras, smart phones, and tablets. What they cannot do on a consistent basis is create good images that tell or complement a story. That takes experience, practice, and skill. It means being in the right place at the right time.

It is capturing a fleeting  moment frozen in time. It is creating an image that is powerful and has impact.

There is another issue. What qualifies as a quality photograph for the internet does not necessarily qualify as an image for print. Ethical photojournalism is free from major post production manipulation. Good images only require minor adjustments and can be published digitally and in print. Many, if not most digital photos shot by amateurs or inexperienced people  need post production manipulation to transfer into print.

Digital technology changed the business model of all media. Content is king. Whether it is visual or written, online or print, content must be compelling. It must make you want to delve deeper into the story. Visual content in print media is better than it was due to technological advances. It has to be. For print to compete with digital, images must pop. They need some wow factor to make people part with their money and buy dead trees. Only an experienced professional can produce such images.

The notion of a free press is giving way to a  press controlled by bean counters. Excellence is giving way to mediocrity. How long will it take before the Pulitzer Prize Committee creates the prestigious award for Overall Mediocrity in Journalism?




Filed under: Uncategorized

Leave a comment