It was a bad year for photojournalism. We lost some of the great ones: Henri Cartier Bresson. Carl Mydans. Eddie Adams. These were not perfect men, but they...
IT WAS A BAD year for photojournalism. We lost some of the great ones: Henri Cartier Bresson. Carl Mydans. Eddie Adams.
These were not perfect men, but they had personal vision and heart. They helped set the standard. Who could forget the anguished face of the handcuffed Viet Cong soldier as he was executed on the second day of the Tet Offensive in 1968?
The photojournalists at The Seattle Times work humbly in the same tradition. They feel, more than ever, a responsibility to understand the significance of an image and the consequences of making it public. Every day, they face the ethical challenges of their profession with a belligerent independence. Just ask anyone who works with them.
In the digital era, where every image is suspect, we are all entrusted with visual truth-telling. Because the wheels may come off the wagon and truth could get swallowed up, overwhelmed by marketing and branding and product placement and all those folks out there trying to earn their 15 minutes of embarrassment on reality TV.
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The history of photojournalism is a bloody trail of technological change. The roll film developed during the Civil War put photographers on the battlefield for the first time. Soon after, newspapers began to print those pictures for all to see.
In the first decade of the last century, amateur photographer Jacques Lartigue kept a photo diary of his life as a child of privilege — a giddy sojourn that ended with World War I. He once said he wished he could just blink his eyes and pull the finished film out of his mouth.
We’re getting close, Jacques.
Susan Sontag reminded us in her recent book, “Regarding The Pain Of Others,” that photography “is the only major art in which professional training and years of experience do not confer an insuperable advantage over the untrained and inexperienced.”
Too true, to the chagrin of those who make a living doing this.
Speedy little digital cameras spread the fun around, shoot-and-ship pictures zoom around the world in seconds. If the picture isn’t perfect, we can make it better. Nothing new, really. Photographers have always framed and reframed, lightened and darkened. Nowadays, though, we can rearrange the pixels. We can add and subtract from what the camera saw. Some might not even think this is wrong. We can pull our phone/camera out whenever we feel the urge to converge. Rapid wireless transmission brings freedom but demands ever-increasing speed. Picture agencies and image banks sell photos for any and all anonymous uses. Click and we can witness a beheading. The tethers to the darkroom have been cut. Shooters are on the street, and they are all of us.
In this era of professional queasiness, photographers at The Seattle Times wrestle every day with what makes a photo authentic and why this is important.
Maybe because of the crassness embedded in modern culture, the documentary image has found born-again popularity. Maybe because readers are ever more sophisticated and cynical about the prospect of digital manipulation in the images they see. Maybe the nonstop feed leads directly to the elegant sadness of our cover photo by Tami Silicio, a photo that proves war brings pain to all it touches. Silicio lost her job after sharing this photo with our readers.
Marcel Proust said in “Remembrance of Things Past” that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
We should not be afraid to look.
Kathy Andrisevic is editor of Pacific Northwest magazine.