Author Mark E. Johnson

Photographer Excuses

Something a little lighter … maybe.

Jeff Guyer at DIY Photography has posted 24 Things Photographers Say (And What They Really Mean).

Anyone care to add some more? And read through the comments, some really high ISO people in there …

(Thanks to David Tulis for the link.)

Remnants of Warriers

There are lots of images of conflict, both the combatants and the civilian victims. And after a battle, there are those photographers who swoop in to shoot the aftermath.

But what about looking at the artifacts of a war a century later? Over at The New York Times’ Lens blog, Craig Allen talks with Jeffrey Gusky about his series on the underground cities from World War I.

The details left behind or hauntingly beautiful.

Any Monkey with a Camera …

You know the old line about how enough monkeys with enough cameras can make any photo … well, it happened with this photo of a crested black macaque that photographed itself.

There’s been some controversy over the image as the photographer who traveled to Indonesia and owned the camera that was used to make the image claimed copyright ownership … except, copyright is given to whoever makes the image, now who owns the camera. Which would mean the monkey owns the image … except, the U.S. Copyright Office has said that only a human can own a copyright putting the image immediately into the public domain.

So, if you give enough monkeys enough cameras, we all get to use their works.

In Flight

Sometimes, you just need to look at thematic collections of pictures … Alan Taylor put together a summer series on being Up in the Air for his In Focus photo blog at The Atlantic.

Stream a Hunk of Lightning

That PBS documentary on Dorothea Lange – Grab a Hunk of Lightning is available for streaming on their web site. Charge up your laptop and make some popcorn.

Go Deep, Not Just Far

While looking for something else this morning I stumbled across a blog post from Ami Vitale about travel photography. As my first-semester students are out wandering campus, camera in hand, there’s a lot of lessons for them in here, particularly the second of her ten, which ends with this:

If some of the people who surrounded Subita had taken the time to spend even a few hours with her, learning a bit more about her life, they would have had a story and not just an image.

We are never in search of pictures, we are in search of stories.

Heisler on Heisler

I’ve talked about him before, but B&H Photo has posted a great interview with Gregory Heisler on their site. Worth spending the time – and it will take some – to go through.

I have his book, I’ve seen him speak … and if my wife wouldn’t divorce me, I might go back to my old school where he’s now on the faculty.

Vivian Maier’s Work May Disappear, Again

This is fascinating and disturbing on many levels – the work of an unknown photographer, Vivian Maier, that was discovered at an auction several years ago and who has since been heralded as one of the great street photographers, is now heading into the courts over copyright claims.

As someone who truly appreciates the work she did and is intrigued by her story (a French nanny who worked in Chicago and New York and never showed her work to anyone), I will hate to see it disappear from the public view. But as a staunch supporter of copyright protections, I think it must. The gentleman who found the trove of 100,000 negatives and has been meticulously preserving, digitizing and printing them (along with showing the work in galleries, museums, books and a film) does have physical possession of the images but does not have the legal right to do anything with them.

To those who have never looked into copyright law, this may seem odd, but it is the core foundation of it – the creator of a work and, for 70 years after their passing, their heirs, controls what can be done with those works. The law is clear – if a legal heir to Maier is found, they control the work.

Now, is the lawyer who has hunted down an heir looking for fame or fortune? Hard to tell as he claims he hopes to break even on this case.

This will be very interesting in the coming years.

Are Amateurs the Enemy?

There has been much consternation over the last, oh … 15 years … about the rise of the amateur and how he or she is impacting the profession of photojournalism. It is true that may photojournalists succeeded solely on their technical skills as photographers. Those are the ones who are most worried.

As camera technology has advanced, the expertise needed to make high technical quality images has diminished. Today’s cameras combine superb autofocus systems, stunningly accurate exposure systems and stellar chip performance. Many of our skills in reading light, balancing exposure and nailing focus have been automated, enough so that anyone with a large enough credit limit can enter the field in theory.

Over at Time’s Lightbox blog, Olivier Laurent takes on the question of whether amateurs are truly hurting our profession.

The answers may surprise you … and I agree with them. Photojournalism has never been about photography, it has been about story. I tell my students that the two hardest part of this calling have nothing to do with cameras, lenses or software – it’s where to point the camera and when to push the button.

A few years ago, Sprint ran a truly horrifying commercial where they talked about, “a billion roaming photojournalists.” Catchy, perhaps, and the spot has all of the up-swelling music and vibrant images you could ask for. But it was a lie.

Yes, a world full of camera-toting amateurs will capture a wide range of the human experience, but is that photojournalism? When the bombs went off inside the London subway tunnels in 2005 and two people started shooting photos, that was documentation. It was also – and this is not to denigrate the images or the photographers – low hanging fruit. The situation presented itself and they recorded it.

Is reporting something journalism? I have always held that journalism has a higher level of responsibility, to go beyond what happened and explain why it happened and what it means.

Will amateurs do that? Will they put the time into finding the source of stories, the beginnings of an event? No, probably not – they have other jobs and other responsibilities.

So how do we, as a profession of photojournalists, handle this? We do what we have always done – we tell stories that matter.

That’s it, that’s the secret – tell stories that people must see, tell stories that no one else is willing to put the effort into telling. It’s complex and it’s expensive, but more or technically better pictures isn’t the answer, it’s better stories. It’s stories that inform, stories that educate and stories that resonate.

Found … and Now Lost

National Geographic has a Tumblr of images they have found in their archives … and I just lost most of my morning in it. Some really amazing work in there.

(Thanks to alum Brittany Robertson for the link, my boss will be asking you about my lack of productivity.