Making the Invisible Visible

This NPR piece by Richard L. Harris, ostensibly a review of a new monograph of Mary Ellen Mark’s lifetime of work, may have given me a theme for my spring Documentary Photojournalism course.

As journalists, we are charged with shining light into the dark corners of our world – to make the invisible visible. Given how dark our world has seemed this year, pulling back a curtain to help us see seems like a great theme.

The Value of Metadata

My colleague Kyser Lough sent this along – a look back in time to when Jose R. Lopez photographed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on her first day on the Supreme Court.

Why is this important? Aside from it being a very strong image, it was his ability to find that image, 27 years after it was made – this is a story about the value of metadata.

An old friend of mine has been scanning photos of trains of late, posting them to Facebook. He had notes on the slides about the type of train and where it was photographed for most of them, but not all – his metadata is incomplete.

Appending locations and notes to our files is easier now than ever before – there is absolutely no reason not to have all of that on every image. But it means you have to commit to it, make it part of your workflow.

App Failures and Lost Images

Within the last week, two significant coding errors wreaked havoc on Photographer’s who relied on a pair of popular imaging platforms.

It appears that image.canon was hit with a ransom ware attack and an Adobe Lightroom update wiped out images and presets for users on iOS.

This is another example of why why it’s critical that you establish and execute a robust digital asset management plan, and that means both online and offline backups of files. Keeping everything in just one place is tempting fate or, at least, hackers and bad coders.

Ethics, Automation and the Humanist Disconnect

A lot of turmoil swirling around Magnum, one of the pre-eminent photographic agencies. This piece by Andy Day asks a lot of questions and is a must-read for those of us in the industry right now.

At the end, he lists a series of questions that Magnum must answer about the images (particularly of children documented in sexual situations) within its archive and the sudden removal of that archive from public view.

But there’s a deeper series of questions we in the industry need to wrestle with, a series that begins with the place of automation. In ye olden times, a publisher would ring up an agency and explain what they needed images of and how they were going to be used. An editor would go through the archive and pull a series of options, then send them over for review and begin the licensing discussion. There were many sets of eyes that were put on every image, both when it came in from the photographer and was added to the archive and its index as well as when an editor pulled the image for consideration.

Much of that process is now automated or outsourced – who is responsible for adding keywords and metadata to the electronic index? Is it an editor or a coder? (And if you think this can’t be automated, look at the photos app on your phone or computer – I bet it will generate albums based on its content assessment.)

Do we have more images being produced? Yes – outtakes used to just be a few frames from each roll, now there are thousands of images coming in from every assignment. Do we have more uses for images? Yes again – print and digital are using more images than ever before?

Are we using images with the same care as we used to? No, not in how we select them or how we publish them. And that’s a discussion even bigger than Magnum that we must have.

(Thanks to Lauren Steel for the link.)

Road Trip Portraits

I love this idea to do portraits through a truck’s windows. That Brian Bowen Smith ended up putting 11,000 miles on his 1958 Ford F100 while criss-crossing the country this summer … well, that just makes it so much cooler.

Time to tune up my 66 Mustang, I think …

Control, Don’t Clean

My mentor and friend David Sutherland delivered the same message to first-year photography students at Syracuse University for four decades:

Fill your frame. Control your backgrounds. Wait for moments.

I still teach this mantra today (though I add a fourth: Care).

My friend Stanley Leary has written about his mentor and friend, Don Rutledge, and the way he used backgrounds to layer more information into his images. A deeper exploration and explanation of how building images carefully can deepen your audience’s understanding.

Seattle County Court Orders Media to Turn Over Raw Material

A King County judge Washington state has ordered that the Seattle Times and several television stations turn over all photos and videos f a May 30 protest. Local officials have said the material is necessary for the identification of individuals who committed crimes after breaking off from the main protest.

The National Press Photographers Association has issued a statement that says, in part:

It is dangerous enough for visual journalists to be covering the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests over the death of George Floyd. The last thing visual journalists want is to be seen as an arm of law enforcement, aiding attempts to gather evidence. In an era where there are cameras on nearly every corner and in every pocket in America, it strains belief that police cannot get the evidence that they need elsewhere. This is exactly what state shield laws are meant to protect against.

Associated Press Switching to Sony for all Still and Video Photojournalist

If you ever needed a sign that mirrorless was the future, it’s today’s news that the Associated Press is moving to Sony equipment for both their still and video photojournalists.

While not a huge sale (or lease, more likely), the impact on both profesisonals and amateurs of this move could be immense. Canon and Nikon have had a stranglehold on the professional photojournalism world for almost half a century, so the fact that the AP (which may be the largest employer of photojournalists in the world) is switching is … shocking.

Maybe I need to try one of them out …

(H/T to my colleague Kyser Lough for the initial tipoff.)

Detroit Officer Charged for Firing at Photojournalists

Corporal Daniel Debono has been charged with felony assault after firing rubber pellets at three photojournalists covering protests in late May, according to The New York Times.

All three were leaving the scene of a protest and had identified themselves as journalists when the incident happened.

Color in a Dark Time


You can look at this post on the Leica blog two ways: with lust over the newest Leica rangefinder or with lusciousness at the images Huw John created with it.

I, I choose both.