Our world is changing at a seemingly unprecedented pace, and the forces behind this change — and its ramifications — can be difficult to grasp, much less escape. Donald Weber examines what this means for photography, and wonders if photographers should re-think some of the fundamental elements of how they work.

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Illustration by Jordan Parshall

With light, we can illuminate and dispel. Rebecca Solnit has written that invisibility is a type of shield, while democracy is founded upon visibility. In polite concision, this is just what a photographer or journalist does: Claims visibility, counters hidden motives, dissembles corruption by yanking it full front and center, and confronts power. In other words, this light is a form of democracy in action, and a fundamental pillar of journalistic integrity.

And yet, how is this light we use shaped? What are the forces at play that enable us to confront power? As society changes, so, too, do the political and social infrastructures that create the space in which we photograph. We need to ask, What does it mean to “do” photography? How are photographers being pushed to let go of their ideals or rethink their incentives as they work? How can understanding political, economic, and cultural interests play a role in sculpting not only a photographic process, but also the environment in which we find ourselves working? …

We need to begin asking, what are the mechanisms that have defined ‘good work’?

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Adele breaks her 2017 Album of the Year Grammy for ‘25’ in half as she thanks Beyonce in disbelief that her ‘Lemonade’ album wasn’t awarded. © Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Who doesn’t want to be ‘The Best,’ Number One, First Prize? It is in our natural human psyche to want recognition from others, to be seen as outperforming those around you, and to be recognized for our supposed ‘good work.’ In photography, as in many other professions, the sport of recognition in the past few years has grown exponentially. A flurry of contests, prizes, awards, grants, trophies, accolades and honours have all sprouted like mushrooms, each uniquely positioning themselves as the ultimate arbiter of photographic success: exposure and recognition.

Often a competition’s desire is to discover or reward ‘good work,’ but a byproduct of that desire often leads institutions to seek legitimacy, indoctrinating a profession to their dominant values. We need to be wary. At what point does external approval override your own moral consciousness? When does judgement by others preclude your own sensibility for ‘good work?’ …

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The ‘frontline’ of Hrushevskogo, from the perspective of the police. The area just behind the concrete barricade was where you needed to have accreditation from the EuroMaidan press office. You can see how narrow the area really was, and where the majority of the photography took place. Central Kiev, Ukraine, 2014.

Notes on a frozen art form from a World Press Photo juror and member of the VII photo agency

Just because a photo looks like photojournalism, doesn’t mean it’s Photojournalism.

Photojournalism the ethic, the genre, the act of reportage through story and images, has been hijacked under the guise of “photojournalism” the style — where the style denotes “truth,” objectivity, righteousness, infallibility, etc. At what point did the act of making images subvert the idea of what Photojournalism is and should be?

This is not an argument for pushing aesthetics and technique out the window. …


Donald Weber

Photographer, Educator

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