Week 2: Thoughts on Photojournalism, Film as a Medium and Post-Photography

Film as a medium is still relevant, that is, it still can be important to the matter at hand. To ask the question, “Is film as a medium still relevant?”, is to ask the wrong question. Film is a tool, a vehicle that still can be utilize to attain a specific photographic objective. The questions I always ask however are, “Is the medium of film economical or cost effective?” Using film as a medium for photography will require additional tedious work. How much work are you willing to put into it in order to get the image you want? Do you have the time to go through the processes of developing and printing (or scanning)? Do you have the equipment needed for the processes to be done? In this age of instant gratification, film and the necessary processes intrinsic to it, make film as a medium seem irrelevant. Film, as Burley in his video documentary states (https://vimeo.com/35389773), has a unique quality that digital can never replicate. If I have the time, if I have the resources, if I have the equipment, if the chemicals and other ingredients needed to produce a photo using film are readily and affordably available, I would definitely use film as a medium and supplement this with digital photography. In addition, understanding the limitations of film as a medium will help one to decide if this medium is appropriate. Say if one needs to submit photos “pronto” then film may not be the best medium to use. If I were say, a fine art photographer and I have time on my hands, film can be used as a medium.

Photojournalism like any other disciplines has its own challenges and limitations. In Liam Kennedy’s article “Photojournalism and Warfare in a Post-photographic Age” he mentioned one:

“Under conditions of perpetual war, the capacity of photography to either critically shape public understanding of events or activate affective registers of empathy and compassion is in question.”

The evidentiary power of still images has, in this age, diminished. With the bombardment of thousands of images through the internet and other media it is now difficult to assume that one would believe what one sees. In another article by James Warren (https://www.poynter.org/2015/the-limits-of-photojournalism-what-those-pictures-of-the-syrian-boy-didnt-tell-us/371353/) he pointed out that viewers can also get another message than what the image intended to convey. In the case of the photo of the Syrian boy who drowned, viewers tend to remember the photo and ask questions about parents, safety, danger, and children and the issue of Syria and Turkey and the policy issues of migration and refugees which is the heart of the message is forgotten.

Despite the many references made to “photojournalism is dead” or “photojournalism is dying”, I believe that it is not dead and will continue to be relevant in the years to come. Photojournalism for me is in a current state of redefining itself. As Liam Kennedy in his article mentioned, “photographic images still remain important as mirrors for critical reflection on war, human rights, and violence.” It however functions within a new visual economy. The challenge now for photojournalism is to revitalize perception of war and build visual vocabularies of documentation and representation that is less idealized, less burdened by assumptions about the truth value of the image.

Images of war are not part of my social media platforms primarily because I am not a war/conflict photographer. War and conflict or news of events about war or conflict are not the type of photographic subjects I primarily seek out to photograph. I am more inclined towards doing documentary work, documenting stories that are not easily seen or noticed. If I were to cover conflict or war, I would be more interested in the sub-stories that go beyond the main protagonist of a conflict or sub-stories that are not obvious.

What is “post-photography”? To me “post-photography” is the age where still photos are no longer enough to, as Kennedy would say: “critically shape public understanding of events or activate affective registers of empathy and compassion.” Using photography as the only tool for telling a story is no longer enough especially for stories that are complicated and has many angles to it. Photography alone is limited in its capacity to cover and shed light to the multi-faceted aspects of modern day conflict and issues. In the age of post-photography, storytelling has to incorporate other visual elements as a process of “building visual vocabularies of documentation and representation that is less idealized, less burdened by assumptions about the truth value of the image.” Photojournalism will still have a place in visual journalism as one of the elements. Recognizing the limitations that photojournalism brings to a particular story is the starting point. Utilization of other elements (i.e. video, animation, etc) will enhance the storytelling power, a storytelling that will be more effective in shaping public understanding and/or activate affective responses among the viewers leading them to act.

In this digital age, photojournalism should see itself as a part of a larger and more diverse visual economy. It can no longer stagnate and set itself apart from or consider itself as a stand-alone discipline capable of building better understanding of issues, from the larger body of media available today.