Category Business & Industry

The Ethics of Self-assigned Work

In a piece for the Poynter Institute from 2017, Kainaz Amaria talks about the moment she realized she wasn’t going to be a conflict photographer and the underrepresentation of women in photojournalism.

But there’s one line in there, one line that I wish every student and young professional would pay attention to:

It’s that I couldn’t justify asking someone to tell their story if I wasn’t sure I had an outlet to publish in.

Nearly every time there’s a major news event, I start to hear rumblings from students and young professionals across the country – let’s go to (insert location of major news event here), it’ll be great for our portfolios.

And that’s when my stomach churns – it’s the lowest level of humanity that wants to profit off of someone else’s plight in life.

I understand the need to tell stories, the need to build your portfolio, the belief that you need major news events in your book to be considered a “real” photojournalist. But here’s the thing – any decent editor is going to look at your work and ask why you made those images. And if your answer isn’t about helping your community understand, then what you’re showing is not journalism. It’s just photography.

And it’s photography that’s been done at the expense of someone else.

Photojournalism is about informing an audience, it is about advancing the understanding of an event or issue, it is about raising and answering questions about the human condition. It is not about moments of drama or great light or clean backgrounds – that’s photography.

If you get that urge to pile in a car and go somewhere just because there’s news, ask yourself who you’re telling that story to. Without knowing and understanding who you are making images for, you’re not doing journalism.

They Exist

Anderson Cooper interviewed the artist known as JR for 60 Minutes and it’s worth 14 minutes of your time. It’s not journalism, it’s art, but it’s interesting how he thinks about his transition from being a graffiti artist to doing these photo installations.

If you have a few more minutes, after the regular segment airs there’s an Overtime segment with a few surprises in it.

(Thanks to Janie Bohlmann for the link.)

Seeing Where You Are

For every photographer who has ever said they need to travel somewhere to make better images, for every journalist who has driven to work with windows up and music playing, you must read this piece by Neeta Satam on how to see stories ethically.

Next week, students in our Documentary Photojournalism course will head a little south for our 13th Annual Woodall Weekend Workshop, three days in one rural community telling its story. They will focus in on one project, working with ten professionals acting as editors, coaches and mentors.

There is nothing unique or special about the communities we choose for them to cover, they are everyday places full of everyday happenings – stories we need to see to understand who we are.

These are the stories of our backyard.

(Thanks to Sean Elliot for the link.)

From War to Fashion

Every now and then I come across someone I’ve never heard of and wonder how I missed them … Toni Frissell is the latest, as featured by Alan Taylor at The Atlantic.

Theres a simple elegance to her work that shows in the fashion and war work, clean compositions and nice moments.

Secrets About Secrets

The New York Times just published 15, 15 women who were never profiled at the time of their death, in a series titled Overlooked.

The controversial Diane Arbus, a portrait photographer who has been the center of photographic discussions since her 1971 suicide, is featured in a piece by James Estrin.

Her work raises a lot of questions about purpose and ethics – no one has ever referred to her as a journalist but her work does document a certain time and place in history. The question I always come back to with her images is whether they are about those she photographed or about her, the photographer, and her own journey.

Worth a few minutes of your time this morning.

A Narrow Slice if History

Hondros, a film about the late photojournalist Chris Hondros, is now open in select cities. Producer Greg Campbell, a friend of his, spoke with Christopher Booker for PBS News Hour.

Because I think Chris knew very well that there were also not a lot of happy endings after he snapped the shutter on his camera. And I’ve heard him say several times. That’s as much as journalists and photographers are recording history, it’s maybe more accurate to just say that they’re recording a very narrow slice of history. And there are usually some of the most traumatic events of a person’s life and I think Chris really wanted to follow up with stories to try to present a wider picture of what what occurred.

Automating the Copyright Infringement Search

Steven Melendez at FastCompany has an interesting piece up on two companies – Copypants and Pixsy – that are automating the search for copyright infringements online.

The technology (similar to Google’s and TinEye’s reverse image search) has the potential to be a powerful way to control how our images are used. The danger comes from how the process moves forward after finding a possible infringement – overly aggressive law firms could spur rollbacks of copyright protections in a worst-case scenario.

Now, if there were a way to get hosting platforms to tie into a reverse image search with the Copyright Office to stop the images from even getting posted, that could be a game changer – getting more people to register AND making potential infringers aware of what they are doing.

(Thanks to John Harrington for the link.)

When Assisting Means Employed

David Walker at Photo District News has taken a look at several legal issues related to large-scale photo shoots, ones where “assistants” are routinely hired to help with the production.

The common industry term “assistants” means something different in New York and California. Most of us think of assistants as independent contractors, paid a flat rate to work on a shoot. In two states, it means they are employees and have to be paid at the end of the day, with taxes taken out and have a workers’ comp and unemployment insurance in place.

That is a game changer for a lot of budgets. This is worth a close read.

Southwestern Photojournalism Conference Moves … East?

Yep, what has been in Texas for years is now in Nashville, Tennessee, February 15-17.

I’ve heard many great things about this event and, if I didn’t have a conflict, I would head there myself.

China’s 79-Year-Old Sports Photographer

Hong Nanli is my new sports photography hero and will be yours, too.

(Thanks to Mark Hertzberg for the link.)