PHOTOJOURNALISM- A new exposure….
Photojournalism can be explained as a form of journalism that involves collecting, editing and presenting news material for publication or broadcast that creates images in order to tell a news story. It’s beginnings date back to 1827 where photographers aimed to capture moments in the lives of people everywhere. In 1851 the wet plate technology was replaced by dry plates and roll films making it easier for photographers to share their documentation of the world through their eyes. In the early days with slow film and primitive cameras photographers had a plethora of bulky and also very fragile equipment. These early photojournalists brought breakable glass plates, chemicals for developing pictures in improvised dark rooms, tripods for long exposures and cameras that were hardly portable. On an entire assignment a photographer would maybe take no more than one hundred pictures.
Many photographers were revolutionaries believing in the idea that photography had the power to tell important truths about the world. The camera began to expose the world to the unknown. With the development of more sophisticated cameras, new technology and faster printing methods photography soared to new heights. Imagination and image began to come together and photojournalists began to capture the most profound images. Newspapers began to embrace photos as a way to increase sales and elicit interest from their readers. By 1900 the news photos had become a fundamental part of journalism.
During the twentieth century photojournalism was a well-respected communication medium. According to Rothstien, the photojournalists were viewed as, “observers of people and events who report what is happening in photographs; interpreters of facts and occurrences that write with a camera; skilled communicators whose images are transmitted visually via the printed page: (1979. P. 15).
THE CAMERA AS A WINDOW
“The most effective documentary photographs are those that convince their observers with such compelling, persuading truth, that they are moved to action.” (Rothstein, pg 27)
The use of photojournalism has captured many significant moments in human history. Often times the photos have not been accompanied by text. Some significant events that have been captured include the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassination of President John F Kennedy (1963), and the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City (September 11, 2001). The impact of photojournalism on the people of the early twentieth century and the in the word today can be compared to past shifts in technology. When Plato wrote the Phaedrus, he stated that writing would, “ create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls because they will not use their memories; they will trust the external characters and not remember themselves.” Plato saw new technologies as producing cultural change. Photojournalism as Ong states about writing “has enabled our society to reach the heights that is has” and is “essential for the realization of fuller, interior, human potentials” (Ong, p. 81). Photojournalism has created a level of social consciousness and awareness that had an impact on both writing and aural cultures.
Looking at photojournalism in various oral- aural cultures strengthens the oral expressions associated with these cultures. For example, “the oral expression” that,” carries a load of epithets and other formulary baggage that high literary rejects….” are very evident in the captured images of oral cultures (Ong, p.38). Proverbs that govern the law and other traditional expressions are patent. (Please see photos) This will depend on the perspective of the image captured from the point of view of the photojournalist but generally “once a formulary expression crystallizes, it is best to be kept intact” (p. 39).]
From photojournalism emerges a very interesting gray area between writing and aural cultures. Writing cultures allow material to be retrieved in the situation where the mind is distracted and confused. In oral discourse the oral spoken word is characterized, according to Ong, by redundancy. Photojournalism brings about an interesting opportunity for writing cultures to record their analysis of images and for oral culture to narrate their ideas and perhaps introduce new elements of the human life world; this can be each time the photo is discussed.
Lester (1994) also points out that words and pictures possess a unique language that some individuals can interpret better than others. Helmut Gernshelm entertains this thought further by suggesting that photography may be the only language understood in all parts of the world, and it has the potential to bridge all nations and cultures (1962). Worth, another expert in visual communication disagrees. He explains the images do not have lexicon or syntax in a former grammatical sense; they are not actually a language in a verbal sense (1981).
Photojournalism is built on Elkins proposal that “the object stares back” and this has an uncontainable effect or grasp on the spectator (1997). This view is the allure of photojournalism upon which all other ideas are built. Photojournalism had the sophistication to capture what writing cultures and orality combined are lacking in their interactions. If Bloomfield’s claim is correct that “writing is not language, but merely a way of recording language” then photojournalism can record images that will allow participation from both cultures in the form of interpretation. Similar to the idea of logocentrism that removes both speech and writing from the lived experience of language photojournalism records a universal language. Similar to Logocentrism one may see the parallel that photojournalism presents; language as if it were perfect, transparent, unmediated and authentic. Ong emphasizes that “almost everyone can communicate orally, writing requires a great deal of skill.” Photojournalism can lend its messages to everyone, where the written word only reaches a select few.
Many philosophers such a Jacques Derrida will claim that written word has its own value while others believing in logocenrism regard speech as superior to writing (Plato, Rousseau, Strauss..)
The Impact of Photojournalism on Literacy and Education
We are living in what most of the world would agree is a visual age (Gombrich, 1982). It has been emphasized that we are “entering a historical epoch in which the image will take over from the written word” (p. 37). The image is not necessarily taking over the written word but there has been a drastic shift in the way media communicates with its audience. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, web pages, documentaries and other mediums of information sources have changed where the “ images being contained in the verbal text” are no longer in complete control (Bolter, 2001,p, 48). The increased use of photography that came at the turn of the century has openly demonstrated the real and perceived social and economic gaps that exist between cultures, societies, and countries and even within geopolitical entities. Presently, there is a divide that exists called the digital divide. Some have access to 21st century technologies while others are excluded. Photojournalism provides an alternative to what Postman discusses in the “Judgment of Thamus” where he suggests that the use of computers in the classrooms will likely result in an academic culture that is isolated, individualistic and lacking in community. Petrina (2008) suggests using learning strategies that are collaborative in nature. In oral cultures the qualities of learning are cooperation, community and social responsibility (Postman, 1992, p. 17). Photojournalism can be used as a way to communicate a message and include those individuals who learn best through visual images.
Hicks suggest that when combined together words and pictures are equally expressive, the two become one medium where “ the meaning of the work can be achieved in one perceptual act” (1973). Gernsheim (1962) suggests that photography may be the only ‘language’ understood in all parts of the world and it has the potential to bridge all nations and cultures.
Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of Print. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Chandler, D. (2000). Technological or media determinism. Retrieved from http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/tecdet/tdet01.html
Grombich, E. H.(1982). The image and the eye: Further studies in the psychology of the pectoral representation. Thaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.
Gernsheim, H. (1962). Creative photography. Faber and Faber Ltd.
Lester, P.M. (1994). Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication, Part One. Retrieved October 20, 2004 from http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/viscomtheory.html
Ong, Walter. (1982.) Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.
Postman, N. (n.d.). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Petrina, S. (2008). The Politics of Educational Technology, Module 5, 1.1 Politics,
Rothstein, Arthur. (1979) Photojournalism 4th edition. American Photographic Book Publishing Co., NY.
Worth, S. (1981). Studying Visual Communication. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
In Migrant Mother Dorothea Lange produced the seminal image of the Great Depression. The FSA also employed several other photojournalists to document the depression.
Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe. Voltaire
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan AL- Nahyan
Here in the UAE this photo of the late visionary leader represents the oral traditions of the country- the proverbs that govern the Emirate and the values the past and the present.