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

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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.

Ektachrome Re-exposed

Kodak is putting an old film back into production – Ektachrome, last made in 2012, will be back on the market this year.

As you read through Stan Horaczek’s story, study the image labeled Master Control. There are two items that will tell you this is a modern image, even though it looks straight out of the 1980s. While there may be some money to be made in Extachrome, it’s apparently not enough to redesign all the manufacturing and monitoring equipment.

Know Your Sources, Deeply

Andrew W. Lehren, Emily R. Siegel and Merritt Enright at NBC News broke a story this week about the First Lady receiving royalty payments that may have come from news outlets … without them knowing it.

Many of the photographs in the Getty Images archive are from a photographer who seems to have an interesting relationship with the Trump family. Regine Mahaux’s images appear to have required model royalties associated with them, meaning that news organizations (of which NBC News found several) were paying the First Lady when they published images of her. They are also reporting that the images have restrictions to be only used for positive news stories.

News organizations have a responsibility to understand where all of the information they publish comes from, which means they may have to investigate all of the agencies from which they draw images.

Of course, having staff photojournalists and your own archive can mitigate this problem – and I do mean mitigate, not eliminate. No organization will ever be able to create and control every image they need to publish.

(Thanks to Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute for the lead on this.)

“I wanted to stop her crying”

It’s an image everyone is talking about, a little girl crying as her mother is searched by U.S. Border Patrol agents. It’s an image that took John Moore a decade to make.

“I have no way of knowing if things will be okay.”

Journalism matters.

Visualizing Autism

I am going to put this right up front – I think Craig Walker may be one of the most important photojournalists of our time.

He won earned two Pulitzer Prizes while at the Denver Post, one for a story on a kid joining the Army and a second on a Marine coming back from war. This week, the Boston Globe published Raising Connor, the story of a 13 year old boy with autism.

Walker invested the time, invested the energy, invested the compassion that this story needed. It is a shining example of what Roger May refers to as heartwork.

Not noted in the story, but due acknowledgment, are the editors who gave Walker the ability to make this story happen. It is stories like this that give us a true insight into what is happening in our communities, that let us both see and feel.

Last night, I sent another group of visual journalists out into the world at the University of Georgia commencement ceremony. We talk about stories that illuminate, educate and resonate – this story is what I mean by that.

Native Photographers

Who best can tell a story – an impartial outsider or someone with a deep connection? It’s a perennial question amongst journalists.

The outsider may have no bias but also may lack a depth of understanding. The insider may understand all the issues at hand but could also have been deeply affected by them.

Over at The New York Times, James Estrin looks at the mission of Natives Photograph, a database of Native American photographers.

“We’re people, we’re not news robots.”

We often wonder if the work we do makes a difference. Sometimes, we get a little evidence of it.

Noelle Lashley was Grady College’s Class Orator at our Convocation and called out Bob Lynn’s book, Vision, Courage and Heart.

We can be afraid. We’re people, we’re not news robots. We just can’t let that fear affect our work.

Seeing the South

I have a couple of friends, photojournalists with common but wide backgrounds, and we keep talking about doing some kind of project together. A road trip, an essay, a deep exploration of a place.

But we just keep talking about it, mostly because that’s all we have time for. And seeing pieces like this Andrew Moore gallery on the Bitter Southerner just makes me want to go even more.

Now that’s great storytelling.

Printing Out of Time

My darkroom days are, thankfully, in the past. I was never enamored with the process of photography, it was the message and meaning of an image I fell in love with. The ability to bring someone somewhere, to let them bear witness.

That said, I do appreciate the work of masters in the craft and the Cibachrome prints of Christopher Burkett are enchanting. That his days in the darkroom are numbered is, truly, saddening.