Category Ethics & Legal

Defending McCurry

There’s been a bit of a storm brewing over a New York Times piece by Teju Cole about the work of Steve McCurry, one of the legendary National Geographic photojournalists.

I … don’t agree with his assessment but don’t feel qualified to take it on. Allen Murabayashi from PhotoShelter, though, has completely encapsulated my thoughts on the matter.

Having an obvious subject with tack sharp focus and proper exposure doesn’t mean a photo is devoid of layers of interest and interpretation.

Murabayashi’s sentiment aligns with my own here – the current fad of making low quality images to impart a gritty “realness” to them is ridiculous. We have spent nearly 200 years improving the quality of cameras through better lenses, better film stocks and now better sensors – why on earth do we apply “lo-fi” filters and strip out detail, accuracy and comprehension?

My student have heard this rant before – let the content of the image move your audience, don’t screw with their emotions with technique.

Secret Service Agent Throws Photojournalist to the Ground at Trump Event

A United States Secret Service agent choked and threw photojournalist Christopher Morris to the ground at a Donald Trump event in Virginia. It is unclear what provoked this response at this point in time, but it is phenomenally disturbing.

Mr. Morris has spent more than 40 years covering conflicts internationally and is a highly regarded photojournalist who was on assignment for Time.

This Week in Athens: First Amendment Issues, Copyright Registrations Workshop

Big things happening this week …

Friday, January 22: First Amendment Issues in Public Spaces – This event is jointly hosted by Grady College and the National Press Photographers Association with generous support from the Sinclair Broadcast Group and will feature multiple panels and discussions prompted by the events at the University of Missouri in November. Panelists will include the two student journalists who were harassed while trying to cover an event on the public quad of a public university. Registration is free and includes lunch, but time is running short to register.

Sunday, January 24: Copyright Registration Workshop – One of the leading experts on how to efficiently register your works with the Copyright Office will lead a hands-on workshop. You’ll learn how to prepare your images, fill out all the online forms and make your deposit with the Copyright Office to ensure you have the full protection of federal law. This event is free for NPPA members, $25 for non-members – please register online.

Both of these events will be at the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in Athens, see the above links for more information.

Reuters Goes to All JPGs

Michael Zhang at PetaPixel is reporting that Reuters has issued a directive to all its photojournalists to only submit images that were shot as JPGs in the camera – no more raw files allowed. (Side note: Why do we always capitalize RAW? It’s not an acronym so far as I can tell.)

Why would the wire service want to give up on the quality advantages of starting from a raw file? Well, speed is the obvious answer – JPGs write faster, download faster, open faster and don’t require any specialized conversion software. But their secondary reason is ethics.

They’ve reached a point where they no longer trust raw images. Which is horrifyingly sad, isn’t it? And insisting on SOOC JPGs (that’s straight out of camera, if you’re curious) or maybe minimally toned and cropped images to fight ethical issues isn’t going to help – you can lie just as easily before the image is made as after.

The core issue here is now trust – Reuters doesn’t appear to trust their contributors (freelancers are mentioned specifically*). And, once you’ve reached that point, no technology policy in the world will help you.

The loss of picture editors at agencies and publications has a crippling, cascading effect on the journalism we aspire to commit. Without them, there isn’t a visual voice at the table when stories are developed. Without them, there isn’t an advocate for the usage of good images (and the non-usage of idiotic images). Without them, the relationship between the organization and those who provide coverage is lost. It is way easier to lie to someone you don’t know then to lie to someone you do know.

This isn’t about speed or efficiency, this is the consequence of speed and efficiency.

*UPDATE: Hearing that staffers received the same directive.

The Rest of the Missouri Video

Bob Sullivan, a University of Missouri alumnus, has his take on what happened last Monday when journalists were harassed on campus – and it’s worth looking at.

Most of us have probably already seen the first seven minutes of Mark Schierbecker’s video, but watch what happens from seven minutes on – including the sarcastic (my interpretation that aligns with Mr. Sullivan’s) tone of faculty member and state employee Melissa Click.

The “Media please stay off the grass” sign later on is a nice touch, too, as it’s held by one of hundreds of people standing on the grass …

Documenting the Fullness and Complexity of Life

Screen Shot 2015 11 11 at 2 00 49 PMGiven the news out of the University of Missouri this week – which is overwhelming in its complexity and very difficult to thread an education lesson through in a short time – the timing of Maurice Berger’s story about a new Gordon Parks exhibit in New York on The New York Times’ Lens blog is stunningly relevant.

The exhibit details not just the published work from Parks’ first assignment for Life magazine, but also the entire take, notes and conversations about the images – what to include and, more importantly, what to exclude. It sounds like it is a brutally honest look at the process of how a picture story would be crafted to match a pre-determined narrative.

Does that sound familiar this week?

This graf is hauntingly authentic right now:

By demonstrating the fullness and complexity of its subjects’ existence, the photo essay could have helped the magazine’s white readers to make connections to their own lives, an empathetic response that Mr. Parks believed was vital to challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about people they saw as fundamentally different from themselves.

I have been rolling ideas through my head for nearly two days now regarding the Missouri incidents. I am angry, frustrated, concerned, baffled, worried and deeply fearful that this event is a turning point (one we may not recognize for a very long time) that signals a seismic shakeup of the relevance of journalism. If a group that was fighting to not be thought of as other chooses to label journalists as the new other then maybe our relevance is over. Technology is somewhat to blame here, but it’s much more about an attitudinal shift, I think.

Much more on that in future posts, but for now, go study Parks’ work.

Missouri Update: Dean’s Statement

Dean David Kurpius from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism has released a statement regarding Monday’s incident.

Also, for clarification, Assistant Professor Melissa Click, featured in several videos confronting journalists, is not a faculty member in the Missouri School of Journalism.

She is a member of the MU Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Science. In that capacity she holds a courtesy appointment with the School of Journalism. Journalism School faculty members are taking immediate action to review that appointment.

Missouri Update, NPPA Statement

The National Press Photographers Association has issued a statement on the situation at the University of Missouri.

At the end of the video linked to yesterday is a woman calling for some “muscle” to remove a reporter – she is Melissa Click, an assistant professor in the Department of Communications at the university. Click also holds a “courtesy” appointment with the School of Journalism.

Missouri Students and Faculty Block Journalists

Mark Schierbecker, a student at the University of Missouri, posted a disturbing video of another student photojournalist, Tim Tai, being blocked by students and faculty while trying to cover the events on campus earlier today.

Mr. Tai deserves high praise for his composure during this event – his is the mark of professionalism. I would hope that the journalism program at Missouri will immediately offer up some First Amendment programs to help the campus population understand that Mr. Tai – and all the other journalists there, including Mr. Schierbecker – have a Constitutionally protected right to be there and document what was happening. There is no expectation of privacy in public.

Challenging California’s Anti-Paparazzi Law

The first case challenging the Constitutionality of California’s 2010 anti-paparazzi law is headed to court and the National Press Photographers Association is joining in.

The law applies penalties to working photographers for driving infractions that differ from those applies to non-photographers.

The appeal points out that the statute creates different punishments for individuals breaking the same driving laws. For example, a person driving too closely behind another car could receive a $100 fine, but a photojournalist driving in the exact same manner could receive a fine of $2,500 and up to six months in jail.