As classes came to a close on Thursday, I shared some quotes with my advanced class about our roles as photojournalists. One asked me to post it on the class blog, but I suspect some of them may resonate with others, as well.

We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory.
–Henri Cartier-Bresson

I shared this to emphasize our role in documenting history as it unfolds. In class, we watch several videos and one of them, focusing on National Geographic’s Joel Sartore, has a line talking about how much of what he shoots is disappearing at an alarming rate.

All too often, we delude ourselves into believing that by simply focusing a live camera on an event, and dropping in the occasional ad lib, we are committing journalism. We’re not. Journalism requires context and prioritizing. It entails separating the wheat from the chaff. What is deliberately left out of a news story is every bit as important as what is left in. Events don’t happen in a vacuum. That’s why we provide context.
–Ted Koppel

There’s a difference between a “first person report” and journalism. It is one thing to say something happened, and that’s often the first step in journalism. But there needs to be additional layers of information in order for it to be journalism.

Life magazine photographer Flip Schulke watched a group shove children to the ground in Selma. “He stopped shooting photographs and began pushing the men away. King heard about the incident and reminded Schulke about his “duty as a photographer.”

“The world doesn’t know this happened, because you didn’t photograph it,” King later told Schulke. “I’m not being cold-blooded about it, but it is so much more important for you to take a picture of us getting beaten up then for you to be another person joining the fray.”
–From “Race Beat,” by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff

It is hard, some days, to witness what we do. And it is easy for passersby to call out and call us cold-hearted vultures. But, as James Nachtwey asked, if we don’t tell these stories, who will?

The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.
–Ansel Adams

I am a gear-head. I won’t deny it. But I have never let gear get in the way of telling a story and, I hope, my students understand that. We have amazing tools at our disposal now, but that’s all they are – tools. We, as photojournalists, are more definitely a “grass is greener” group. If only I had that new body, that new lens, that new flash …

Do you need to understand and master them? Yes, and then you need to forget about them.

Education is irreversible.
–Ray Bacchetti

I wrote about that quote eight months ago, and so I’m going to quote myself on it.

A recent entry by Ray Bacchetti on the Tomorrow’s Professor Blog has had me playing with words. Towards the end of a piece titled “Birthright” he has a simple three word sentence – “Education is irreversible.” And I like that sentiment, but in talking about the line I quoted it wrong to my class today, saying instead, “Education is irrevocable.”

The more I think about it, though, the more I like my butchered version. An education once given can’t be taken away, but it can be left to erode. And erosion of education is close enough to reversing its effects, I think.

All this has been rattling through my head as today was the last class for my advanced students, half of whom will wear the funny gowns in two weeks and then go do good things. Some are excited, many are nervous. What comes next is huge – and hugely important.

One of my favorite journalists, William Jeanes, wrote many years ago that, “Today is always better than yesterday. Tomorrow, better still.”

So a word or two for them – it gets better from here. Take what you’ve learned and go apply it. Be good journalists. Be good students. Be good citizens.

Your education is irrevocable, use it.

It really is.

Mark E. Johnson

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