Author Mark E. Johnson

And We’re Back …

After being down for a month (long story and, while I gravitate towards long stories, I really don’t want to talk about this one), Visual Journalism is back up and running.

Mostly.

We did lose all of the Category assignments for the last 12 years worth of posts. Hoping we can recover them, but I think that may be a bridge too far at this point.

New posts coming soon, it’s nice to have this corner of the web back to myself again.

She Learned to Hear by Seeing

I love this quote from The New York Times story on the late Ida Wyman:

Taking pictures enabled me to hear the stories of the people I photographed.

Listening is such an integral part of journalism – if we cannot listen it is incredibly difficult to see the stories unfolding in front of us. And listening is a very different act than hearing. Listening is an active state, it involves attention and intention. We listen when we are immersed in conversation, we hear without that sense of purpose.

In studying her work, that sense of purpose is there – her street photography/feature photos are nuanced and layered, they are not casual observations. They reveal something about a place. Look at the image of the men studying the newspaper in Hebrew, or the man looking into the garbage can on the pier. Those are not one-dimensional frames, they required her to actively see those scenes, to watch them evolve.

I’m pondering what the parallel phrases are for seeing now. Watching vs. seeing? Open to suggestions here.

Photographing Apollo 11

This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen online, if you’re a space geek, you’re about to lose part of your morning.

Building a Sense of Place at Woodstock

The New York Times takes a look at the (ahem) three rolls of film Roger Ballen exposed at Woodstock, 50 years ago.

This exchange alone makes it worh a read:

You’ve said that so much of photography is actually rooted in having experiences and not just sitting behind a camera or computer.

Yeah, this is the truth of the matter. When I grew up in photography, it was about getting on the street, experiencing events, getting in the middle of things, coming back with the goods and the experience to talk about.

It is very easy to think so much about where photographs go, so much so that we can lose sight of the magic needed during the process. If we are not immersed in the moment, we can’t fully understand and appreciate the event and that will lessen our understanding.

20th Century Journalists

The Associated Press Images Blog has put up a collection of photos of AP photographers and reporters form throughout the 20th century – great fun to see how our roles and appearances have changed.

New Photojournalism Assignments

It looks like I need to add a Translucent Document assignment to my Advanced Photojournalism course this fall. This will go with the Spelling Document and Empathy Document assignments.

The learning objective: Pay attention to details.

Visual Journalism Fellowships in the Bay Area

This is an interesting idea – CatchLight Local is coordinating three, three-month long visual fellowships in the San Francisco area for later this year. The fellows will partner with local newsrooms to help show the story of the community. (Application info and more details available at the link.)

Research has shown that visual journalists have been eliminated from newsrooms at a higher rate over the last decade – at a time when journalism and its associated platforms have gotten significantly more visual. You can do a lot of good in three months, but what happens after that? Will Bay Area newsrooms see the light and keep those visual journalists on full-time?

When We Take Away What We’ve Made


Two decades ago, Susan Meiselas published a project that looked at how the visual history of the Kurds had never belonged to them – it was made by outsiders, taken away by those outsiders and then, essentially, banned by outside entities.

Magnum has published an excerpt from the 1997 work and it has given me great pause as I wrestle with the questions Meiselas did – what is our responsibility to the communities we cover, particularly the disenfranchised ones? Do we need a cohort of visual journalists to bring the stories of disparate communities back to them?

I’ve long had concerns about parachute journalism, how we tend to drop in on the latest hot spot, blanket it with coverage for outsiders and then disappear. Where is the exploitation line?

Starry, Starry Fakes

I may have a new hero – Dr. Elisabeth Bik, a microbiologist who has been looking at ethical issues in science journals, has turned her eye to some astrophotography published by National Geographic.

One of the great losses of the last 20 years has been the relationships between photo editors and photographers. It used to be that those relationships were cultivated, there were meetings and conversations and extended editing sessions where editors went over work, frame by frame, debriefing the visual journalist who was there in the field. They built up a rapper, they built up trust.

Those days are, for the most part, gone. Photo editors in some places are more akin to photo vacuumers – they are charged with sucking up as many visuals as they can to drive engagement and clicks in the digital realm. Without those relationships, even editors at publications as vaunted as National Geographic are going to get fooled.

Independent journalists, alone with their laptops and without a structured, ethical framework surrounding them, are going to have lapses. With the volume of work to do and the lack of interactions, what else do you expect to happen?

For publishers, they need to take a close look at these situations and ensure that protections are in place. Develop those relationships, get people on the phone, ask direct questions about the work – is this the way the camera saw this? Did you alter the original file? Did you alter the scene? Did you use any special effects? How did you get this access? Is there anything about this image I need to know? Do you understand the consequences of us finding a problem with this image later?

In her Twitter thread looking at lots of images, Dr. Bik asks a simple question: “Where does nature photography end and where does art start?”

I’d replace “nature” with documentary. And if you’re publishing documentary or journalism work, then you better be damned sure it’s real.

American Masters: Garry Winogrand

PBS’ American Masters took a look at the life and work of Garry Winogrand and I highly recommend this – it gives a fascinating insight into his street photography and acceptance into the art world. It’s available online through May 17.