Category Business & Industry

Transmitting History

We think it so common now – make a photo, two or three clicks later it’s shared around the world. There’s an entire generation who doesn’t even understand the idea of having to wait to see your own photos, let alone having to wait to see news photos from around the world.

But 85 years ago today, the Associated Press changed the world – the first Wirephoto made its way around the country and visual storytelling became an integral part of our news consumption.

Sixty years later, I was racing around New England with a trunk full of chemicals, stainless steel tanks, film reels and a … $35,000? … Leafax IIId digital transmitter, still needing a place to process film and tap into a phone line.

We’ve come a long way and it has been a very good journey.

The Best of Season Begins

Over the next few weeks, most publications and agencies will start pushing out their annual best photos of the year galleries.

National Geographic’s stood out to me because of the bylines – if you scroll through their 100 best images, 37% were made by women.

The Washington Post’s gallery includes some propaganda/hand-out photos, about 19% of them were made by women.

If you’re curious, my Advanced Photojournalism class this semester was 89% women. My section of the introductory class was 83% women.

Keep that in mind as you look at bylines through the season.

Photographer Caricatures

Something a little lighter … PetaPixel has the story of Pixelcrush’s caricatures of photographers and they’re worth a little time.

And, yes, I’ve met most of these folks.

One Step Closer to a Small Claims Copyright Court

The House of Representatives passed the CASE act yesterday on a 410-6 vote, which brings the bill one step closer to becoming a law.

Why do we care? This bill has been ten-years in the making, supported by the U.S. Copyright Office and trade organizations (including the National Press Photographers Association) and is designed to make sub-$30,000 copyright infringement claims much easier to pursue.

The Senate now needs to take this up.

Start Your Holiday Shopping with Photojournalist Barbie

On the one hand, I think the partnership between the Barbie brand and National Geographic is great – giving kids, especially girls, more role models and career views is fantastic. The growth of the Barbie line in my lifetime has been fun to watch (even if our own kid never played with one).

That said, the video released as part of the promo is … well … not what photojournalists actually do. The first half is what we call “spray and pray” – point the camera everywhere without any thought.

After that doesn’t work, NatGeo Barbie sulks off with Forest Conservationist Barbie until – Oh LOOK HOW LUCKY WE ARE – the mythical monkey appears and plays happily in front of them.

As the commercial says, that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works.

I suppose a video with NatGeo Barbie reading academic journals that explain the movements of monkeys through the forest is not going to be as exciting, but this is setting kids up with the (overly common) mistaken belief that great photos come from luck.

They don’t. They come from preparation.

Visualizing Change

A good behind the scenes look into how The Guardian is changing the way they use images in stories about climate change.

I think this is an incredibly important discussion to have for many of the reasons they denote – we all feel bad about the polar bear, but it doesn’t impact most of our daily lives and so, after a few moments of sadness, we move on. The emotional connection may be there but it doesn’t persist, we aren’t reminded of it as we go about our daily lives.

Images need to educate us about what is happening and resonate with us – that persistence idea is so critical. And the same applies to images in other stories – wars, man made disasters, natural disasters and even images of poverty. If the images don’t look like the things we deal with on a daily basis, then we are, effectively, othering the story which disconnects us from it.

This may be why I’m attracted to images of the vernacular, images of the everyday things in our lives. The work of photographers like Walker Evans and Fred Herzog intrigues me because it shows me the common things in life, the things I feel I may have or might still experience. It connects me, it shows something that is not other than what I am used to.

But this is incredibly hard to do. The impacts of climate change are both enormous and subtle. Massive storms are easy to visualize yet difficult to contextualize. The smaller, daily impacts can be easier to explain but harder to show. What does a 1.5 degree shift in average temperature look like? It is far too easy to get drawn into the extremist traps, leaving us with polar bears alone. We must do better.

Land is cleared in Athens, Georgia, to build a new gas station. Even as fuel economy increases, fueling locations are becoming more common. (Photo/Mark E. Johnson)

The Importance of Design in Cameras

The designed Luigi Colani died recently. While that New York Times obit deals with many things, it doesn’t do justice to the work he did with Canon in the 1980s – he is credited with the design of the T90, the first truly modern SLR camera.

Look at that camera – introduced in 1986, almost every DSLR of today owes a debt to its purposeful, organic and humanist design. That was the camera that truly moved manufacturers away from the dedicated dials and knobs and started to take full advantage of microprocessors.

In the mid-1980s, that was one of the cameras we all lusted after. A beautiful piece of kit that was truly revolutionary.

Over at The Online Photographer, Adam Richardson has a nice tribute to Colani.

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?

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.

Pop Stars and Copyright Theft

Seems like we’ve been down this road before … The National Press Photographers Association and 15 others organizations have sent a letter of protest to Ariana Grande’s management company over a copyright grad that’s inserted into their press coverage agreement.