Calming Ways and Sharp Eyes

Over at The New York Times Lens blog, David Gonzalez looks back at the first African-American woman to be a staff photographer there. Ruby Washington, a South Georgia native, died earlier this year.

“The temperature would go down a couple of degrees because she had that nice, calming way and was nonthreatening with a ready smile,” Ms. (Nancy) Weinstock said, echoing the remarks of her colleagues on social media. “She would observe, step back a little, and she was very observant. She would see before shooting. She wasn’t one to shoot from the hip.”

Worth some time to look at her work.

The Story Goes On, the Story Goes Out

There’s a tie between first responders and journalists – they’re the most likely to head towards trouble spots in communities. To be there, to bear witness, to document and explain so others can be informed or prepared, that’s what journalists do.

When storms like Hurricane Florence hit, the best and worst of journalists comes out. The split between the visual and the textual in this News & Observer story by Booke Cain is … stunning.

Cain writes about the efforts of local journalists to keep their communities informed while the image is of a television news crew wandering out into the surf or, optimistically, being surprised by a wave.

Yes, journalists need to be there. No, they should never put themselves or others in danger.

We’ve Lost Marc Riboud

I don’t know when I first came across Marc Riboud’s work, but his book on China affected me deeply. It was a seemingly casual yet amazingly precise look at the country during a time when few had access to it.

Riboud passed last week at the age of 93, Oliver Laurent at Time has a look at his work.

Ways of Seeing

At The Washington Post, David Nakamura takes a look at alternate ways of covering the mundane.

Colorado Journalist Detained by Police for Recording from a Public Place

After stopping to investigate police activity, Susan Greene was told to stop recording because it would be a HIPAA violation. When she refused, she was handcuffed and put in the back seat of a police car and then released.

Some things to unpack here … Greene was in a public place as were the police so there is no expectation of privacy there. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act only applies to medical professionals. And by detaining and then releasing her, they prevented her from doing her job. Even with no charges being filed, this was effectively a case of prior restraint by a government official.

College Photographer of the Year Call for Entries

If you’re a college student, it’s time to get your portfolio together – the entry deadline for the 73rd College Photographer of the Year competition is September 23.

There is no entry fee for this – why wouldn’t you enter?

How Salt and Silver Bind Us

Well now I want to go to the Yale Center for British Art to see an exhibition

That BBC video has me thinking thoughts too deep for a pre-coffee Sunday morning, about how to change the way I teach photojournalism and, perhaps, who I teach it to. My classes are not about photography, they are about community, understanding, compassion and helping others build knowledge. That same approach could work in a larger class aimed at other disciplines – using the tool of photography to help better understand science, archeology, history, economics.

It’s truly a small shift in perspective.

I should go make some coffee …

What’s Newsworthy?

The visual coverage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt has fascinated me for years. Stricken with polio, he was mostly unable to walk without either physical or mechanical assistance, yet the journalists of the time almost never recorded that fact.

It’s perhaps one of the greatest ethical discussions on how we cover those in power – what matters, what doesn’t and what’s the effect of that coverage.

Polio, as a physical ailment, had no impact on his intellectual abilities and, therefore, no impact on his ability to do the work required of being president. But how would the general public have responded? Would they have been able to understand that the damage to his legs had no impact on his ability to lead?

The decision not to film or photograph was, I think, an ethical choice. Journalists collect massive amounts of information, assess it, analyze it, vet it, contextualize it and then publish it. Part of that assessment is understanding what the reaction to it will be, that understanding of your audience is a critical part of the process.

This comes up as nearly 90 minutes of unseen silent films of President Roosevelt are about to be released. Michael Ruane of the Washington Post touches on the issue in the video there, worth a watch.

Food for Thought

World Press Photo has given control of their Instagram account to Alessio Mamo. Mamo won an award in the last contest and the image he posted is from a new project looking at poverty and food issues in India. This was sent to me by Katy Culver, director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Journalism Ethics and it raised my eyebrows significantly.

First, I’m not sure this falls into the realm of journalism (or at least our American vision of journalism). This segment of the description was really troubling to me:

These pictures are taken in rural areas where conditions are worse than in the cities and where close to 70% of India’s population reside today. Statistics show that 2.1 million children under 5 years old die of malnutrition annually. The idea of this project was born after reading the statistics of how much food is thrown away in the West, especially during Christmas time. I brought with me a table and some fake food, and I told people to dream about some food that they would like to find on their table.

That last phrase – “I told people to dream about some food that they would like to find on their table” – that’s not journalism. That’s staging, that’s giving direction. Do we pose people in portraits? Yes, we do, to help them tell their story. But this is going a step further – it is not an image about these particular people, they are being used as props.

The comments, both on the World Press Photo feed and Mamo’s original posting, are telling. As of my writing, the post has more than 15,000 likes on Instagram but the written comments use phrases like shameful, horribly offensive, repulsive, exploitive and “completely devoid of any sort of sensitivity or understanding.”

That dichotomy – 15,000 likes and highly critical comments – are one place to start a discussion on the value of social media. Are all those likes because people like the image/execution/idea? Or because it was posted on the World Press Photo feed? Do they like what several commenters referred to as “poverty porn?”

There’s also the question of how we balance the ability to illustrate a story and the need to document an issue. Is this image being used to tell the story of the people in it? Or are they being used as an example of a larger issue? Are they aware of how they are being portrayed?

I have many thoughts on the purpose of visual journalism and many ways of discussing them, but let’s use this version:

  • Journalism is specific, journalism is not generic.
  • Journalism is precise, journalism is not vague.
  • Journalism illuminates, journalism does not decorate.

Is this specific? That’s unknown as there’s no additional information about these specific children. By hiding their faces, they become generic props like the fake food displayed in front of them.

Is it precise? No, as there’s no sense of why (or even if) these two struggle with food insecurity.

Does it illuminate? No, it’s a decorative image – propped, staged and controlled.

As journalists, it’s our responsibility to accurately and truthfully portray the lives of those we document. This image does not do that, it feeds stereotypes not the hungry.

These photographs are from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh two of the poorest states of India. From the series "Dreaming Food", a conceptual project about hunger issue in India. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ My name is Alessio Mamo (@alessio_mamo) an Italian freelance photographer based in Catania, Sicily. In 2008 I began my career in photojournalism focusing on contemporary social, political and economic issues. I extensively cover issues related to refugee displacement and migration starting in Sicily, and extending most recently to the Middle East. I was awarded 2nd prize in the People Singles category of #WPPh2018 and this week I’m taking over World Press Photo's Instagram account. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Despite economic growth, a majority of the Indian population still lives in extreme poverty and disease. Behind India’s new-found economic strength are 300 million poor people who live on less than $1 per day. Government figures may indicate a reduction in poverty. But the truth is, with increasing global food prices, poverty is spreading everywhere like a swarm of locusts. These pictures are taken in rural areas where conditions are worse than in the cities and where close to 70% of India’s population reside today. Statistics show that 2.1 million children under 5 years old die of malnutrition annually. The idea of this project was born after reading the statistics of how much food is thrown away in the West, especially during Christmas time. I brought with me a table and some fake food, and I told people to dream about some food that they would like to find on their table. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #WPPh2018#asia #dreamingfood #india

A post shared by World Press Photo Foundation (@worldpressphoto) on

Sexual Harassment in Photojournalism

Kristen Chick has published an extensive report at the Columbia Journalism Review about sexual harassment in the photojournalism industry.

If you are reading this, you need to go read that. It is not optional.

There is a lot of information to process there. As a male who has been in the industry for almost three decades, I want to be able to say this is a selective view of a small segment of the industry.

Which may be true but it does not matter. Also, I don’t think that it is true.

Harassment comes in big scenes and small scenes. I’ve had colleagues report how they were treated by people they were covering. I’ve had students report that older, male organizers of conferences had invited them to their rooms for after-parties only to find they were the only ones invited and there were pornographic films being shown on the television. I’ve had students report that professionals looked at spokes models in leather pants and turned to the student to say they’d look good in those.

And I use “report” as we do in journalism – when we report something to the public it is because it has been verified and found to be true.

My program here at the University of Georgia is predominantly women. My industry is predominantly male. It is my responsibility to try to balance those two.

We run programs for students throughout the year, including our two signature workshops – Photojournalism at the Fair and the Woodall Weekend Workshop. I have a zero-tolerance policy – I’m not accepting any transgressions and I’m not taking any chances. You don’t get invited unless you’ve been vetted, which means I’ve asked specific questions about you. And if it is reported that you were inappropriate, you are not coming back.

You make my kids feel uncomfortable or othered or less-than and you are done.

And I’m willing to tell my colleagues, near and far, to cut off your access.