Visual Journalism Seminars in Athens

To kick off the, ahem, Tenth Annual UGA Photojournalism Weekend Workshop, we will have a series of talks on Thursday, February 26, on issues related to photojournalism, multimedia journalism and working as an independent journalist. The sessions will be in Studio 100 on the first floor of Grady College here in Athens, Georgia, and are open to all.

  • 2:30Organizing Multimedia Projects: Emmy-award winning multimedia journalist Mike Roy will talk about how he stays on top of large projects like his stories on the Tick Tock Diner and Saving Shabazz
  • 3:15Working with Nonprofits: Katye Martens, multimedia and photography editor for the Pew Charitable Trusts, will talk about the relationship between independent photojournalists and nonprofit organizations
  • 4:00Marketing Yourself: Robin Nathan will talk about building an audience and finding work through marketing campaigns
  • 4:45Accentuate the Available: Mike Haskey, chief photographer for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, will talk about using small, shoe mount lights to bring a little life to under-lit scenes

At approximately 5:30 we will have a renaming ceremony for the workshop and thank an alumnus who will be funding the event going forward.

Questions? Send them along. Hope you can make it.

Contest Reality Distortion Field

Over at Time’s Lightbox, Olivier Laurent is reporting that World Press Photo has received a letter from the mayor of Charleroi, Belgium, claiming that a set of images that won an award this year are “profoundly dishonest.”

This is getting out of hand.

The mayor’s letter goes on to analyze (Giovanni) Troilo’s photographs and captions, including one that purports to show a couple having sex in a car. Troilo submitted the image to World Press Photo with the caption: “Locals know of parking lots popular for couples seeking sexual liaisons.” On his website, however, the photographer reveals that the image was set up: “My cousin accepted to be portrayed while fornicating with a girl in his friend’s car. For them it was not strange.”

There are, to me, four major photojournalism competitions in the world: the Pulitzer Prize, World Press Photo, the University of Missouri’s Pictures of the Year International and the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism.*

My suggestion: These competitions need to explicitly state that they are photojournalism competitions (which one does in its name) AND change their rules to state that any image considered to be in violation will be made available for review. How that decision is made, whether it’s through personal or technical review, needs to be spelled out.

Why use the word considered? If phrased right, it’s not a conviction of an ethical violation. Contests should be an educational tool – to show what’s the best in the industry, to show new ways of seeing and to help us understand where the limits of the business are.

It’s pretty clear that, this year, the entrants don’t know where the limts are.

* NPPA, as you probably know, is headquartered here at the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and I am a member in good standing.

Why You Hire a Professional, Presidential Aspirant Edition

This is classic – how Marvin Bush’s love of Frank Zappa ruined his brother Jeb’s wedding photos.

NPPA Eyetracking Roundup

Here are the four pieces from the National Press Photographers Association’s eye tracking research by Sara Quinn

Whatever Light is Available

I’ve been testing a Fuji X100T for a few weeks that a colleague bought. I’m this close to selling off a bunch of stuff and buying one for myself, but then I come to my senses … then I read how Zack Arias is using his and an LED flashlight and making cool portraits andarghh.

Simplifying is so attractive, isn’t it? Why can’t I just do it?

Competitions, Industry, Trust and Relationships

I have been pondering the news that nearly 20% of the images that made it to the penultimate round of judging in this year’s World Press Photo competition were disqualified for ethical problems. Think about that – one out of every five images that made it through the early rounds was found to violate the organization’s standards for image manipulation.

That’s a staggering number.

Said Michelle McNally, jury chairwoman and director of photography at The New York Times:

Once we saw the evidence, we were shocked. Many of the images we had to disqualify were pictures we all believed in and which we all might have published.

But what troubles me more is that those photojournalists willingly submitted their raw, unedited files for comparison. My interpretation: what the panel found to be ethically questionable the contest entrants’ did not. If they did, they wouldn’t have entered the image or submitted the original file.*

So where does this leave us? I’m concerned that so many contest-worthy images are in circulation, and probably being published, and we don’t know how accurate they are anymore.

Is this a digital problem? I don’t think so. The quickly-beocming-less-than-relevant “darkroom standard” wasn’t much of a standard. When I came of age in the 1980s, the “hand of god” burning technique was still in full force – we burned the daylight, literally, out of thousands of photos to get the effect we wanted. Ethically, is that different from what we’re seeing today?

And even before you get to the print darkroom, how you placed the exposure or how you developed the film could impact what was seen in shadows and highlights.

And even before you set your exposure the angle you chose or who you asked to move within the composition was an area wrought with problems.

Which leads me to think this isn’t a digital problem and it isn’t a software problem. Heck, it wasn’t even a darkroom problem 20 years ago.

It’s a photographer problem.

To co-opt a current phrase, Liars are gonna lie.

Are there more liars now than there were in the pre-digital era? I have no idea. It’s a little easier, sitting in the darkened hotel rooms to tweak a weak composition, to clean it up a little. That’s true. But I’d argue that the same photojournalist two decades ago would have found a way to tweak that composition, to clean it up a little, in camera as opposed to in Photoshop.

Liars are gonna lie, right?

My thought: we don’t have a digital problem, we don’t have a Photoshop problem, we may not even have a photographer problem.

We have a relationship problem.

When I started shooting for the Associated Press in 1993, it took a long time to get into the fold. The Boston market was brutal – there were a lot of great shooters there, all clamoring for work. Once I got in the door and started picking up assignments, I had to bring the film to the High Street bureau, process it there and have the regional photo editor, Dan Hansen, go through it frame by frame.

It was a conversation. What’s happening here? What did you see? Who was there? What’s this? How did this happen? Who did you talk to? What did they say?

Was he fact checking me? I don’t know if it was a formal thing, but he was getting to know me. He was figuring out who I was as a journalist, where were my boundaries, what would I do to get a photo on the wire.

After he made his edits, there was another round of the same thing with the desk editors in New York. Call, tell them what you had, they’d give you a direct line to dial in to, send the photos, call back. Your images didn’t bounce off the satellites until you answered more questions.

Those New York editors, at first, scared me. They didn’t know me, did’t know why Hansen was sending me out to shoot, didn’t know my educational background and they certainly didn’t know what my ethical stance was on anything. Their job was to vet those images, make sure there were no problems, make sure I hadn’t done anything that would jeopardize the reputation of the Associated Press.

If you read any of the biographies about the great photojournalists of the twentieth century, you’ll always come to one section where they talk about the relationships between the photojournalist and the editor. It doesn’t matter if it was Roy Stryker at the Farm Security Administration, John Morris or John Leongard at LIFE, Horst Faas at the AP or Robert Gilka at National Geographic – every editor had a relationship with the photojournalists. They knew each other, they built up a level of trust and understanding.

Do we have that now? I don’t think so. It’s too easy for an editor to grab an image off of a wire or agency web site and not know anything about who made it. We have far more options and far less information.

As a journalism industry, we have said for years that our audience needs to know and trust the source of information. We used that as an argument against the alleged evil bloggers in pajamas. Have we failed at the same thing? Have we failed to know and trust the source of the images we are now publishing?

Digital cameras commoditized photography, allowing more people to make more images. But we, as an industry, have allowed our relationships to weaken so we no longer know the source of our images. We have allowed them to weaken so much that photographers no longer have in depth discussions about what is allowed and what is not, about where the standards of the field are.

Cutting out staff photojournalists, contract photojournalists and editors eliminates the relationships needed to ensure high quality, ethically-sound images. Failure to do so will put us all back in our pajamas.

* I don’t know how many of the 20% refused to turn in the original files, it’s possible many of them didn’t and were disqualified for not submitting a reference file.

Through A Lens Darkly

Tonight, on some PBS stations, the show Independent Lens is running a segment titled Through A Lens Darkly, looking at the photography of and by African-Americans. Alas, it is not scheduled, as far as I can tell, for Georgia Public Broadcasting stations.

NPR has a piece on it, including the trailer.

We’ve Lost Jim Gordon

During my early years as a photojournalist, the only source of information we had about what was going on in the industry came from News Photographer magazine, published by the National Press Photographers Association. Jim Gordon, the man who was editor during my formative years – and a quarter century around them – has passed.

Its arrival every month let me see into the inner machinations of photojournalism. It let me see great work, learn how it came to be and understand the ethical and legal issues we were facing. It helped shape who I became by putting the issues of the industry in my hands.

It still does, but those early white-bordered magazines still hide in the corners of my office and my mind, entry into a world that has since defined me.

Bravo, World Press Photo – Now, Tell Us Who the Liars Are

Nearly one out of five images that made it to the final rounds of the the World Press Photo competition were lies. ONE OUT OF FIVE.

I applaud what Lars Boering is doing and how World Press Photo is now requiring the original, untouched images from entrants that make it to a certain level in the competition for comparisons sake. I’m horrified that the percentage of images deemed unacceptably altered is at 20%. Horrified.

Boering:

It seems some photographers can’t resist the temptation to aesthetically enhance their images during post-processing either by removing small details to ‘clean up’ an image, or sometimes by excessive toning that constitutes a material change to the image. Both types of retouching clearly compromise the integrity of the image.

If you can’t resist the temptation, you’re not a photojournalist. If you can’t resist the temptation to alter the image, you’re not seeking truth and reporting it. If you can’t resist the temptation to retouch, you are no longer portraying the reality of our world.

If you can’t resist the temptation, you are a liar.

I want to know what the standard is for World Press Photo. I want to know how far they were altered. I want to know whose images these were.

I want to know who the liars are.

NPPF Scholarships and Grants

The National Press Photographers Foundation has several scholarships and grants available – application deadline is March 2.

Several of these are worth $2,000