Week 3 – Rethinking Photographers

This week’s topic examined the role of the photographer with a closer look at how they are represented in film. There were several thought-provoking posts from peers besides the coursework to consider in relation to my own practice. My enduring memory of a photographer is Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now, a strung out, half crazy individual deep in the heart of darkness surrounded by Kurtz’s descent into madness. This is not a positive portrayal and plants the idea that war photographers have a screw loose. When I contrast this with Gilles Peress somber work chronicling the Balkans war in Farewell to Bosnia I think this film portrayal conveys a very negative impression of war correspondents.

Gilles Peress,  BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA. Sarajevo. 1993. A cemetery in a former football field near Kosovo Hospital.

Even when reporting is oppressed and foreign photojournalists cannot gain access (China/Uyghur & Syria) then the citizen journalist can take their place, usually at considerable personal risk. Anas Al-dyab paid the ultimate price when he was killed filming airstrikes on his home city of Khan Sheikhun in Syria. During the harsh lockdown in Wuhan during the early days of Covid-19, Li Zehua posted content to YouTube, Twitter and Weibo before mysteriously disappearing for 2 months.

Perhaps Citizen journalism adds to the complexity of getting at the truth of what is being reported, imagery is easily manipulated, tweaked to suit the story and disseminated with minimal fact checking. The Syrian conflict an example where it has been difficult to untangle the truth from propaganda with both sides claiming atrocities. Independent journalists should have separation from the issue at hand and not be biased, although it is not unheard of for them to take sides and promote one side over the other.

As photographic technology has evolved, each iteration has brought it closer to mass adoption, from the realm of the wealthy and privileged to today’s seamless integration with smartphones, indispensable and inescapable in equal measure. User generated content (UGC) is the logical progression of these advances. If everyone can take a picture then invariably some will capture newsworthy images and someone else will find a way to get that to the consumers of news. The chance of instant celebrity but neither citizen journalist nor professional photojournalist.

In time the debate around the form factor becomes marginal, very few people would look at an Edward Weston image today and wonder what sort of camera he used in 1927. Personally I like to use whatever technology is available and especially in street situations a smartphone is almost invisible, a larger camera can draw attention. The pace of technology is relentless, as is the pressure to upgrade to the next over-hyped product, photography is firmly trapped in this cycle. I find it an interesting contrast in using photography to highlight environmental damage while using a piece of equipment that contributes to that erosion in the first place.

This has been another challenging week in absorbing a lot of information, evaluating its significance and relevance and how it relates to my practice. I am coming to realise that in fact I have not really consciously defined my practice. This is something I expect to narrow down in the coming weeks and months of the program.

Bibliography

CONRAD, Joseph. 2008. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. OUP Oxford.

References

MAGNUM PHOTOS. 2020. ‘Gilles Peress’. Magnum [online]. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/gilles-peress/ [accessed 10 Oct 2020].

UNESCO. 2019. ‘Director-General Deplores Death Of Citizen Journalist Anas Al-Dyab In Idlib, Syria’. UNESCO [online]. Available at: https://en.unesco.org/news/director-general-deplores-death-citizen-journalist-anas-al-dyab-idlib-syria#:~:text=Al%2DDyab%2C%20a%20citizen%20journalist,with%20the%20White%20Helmets%20group. [accessed 10 Oct 2020].

THE GUARDIAN. 2020. ‘Missing Wuhan Citizen Journalist Reappears After Two Months’. The Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/22/missing-wuhan-citizen-journalist-reappears-after-two-months [accessed 10 Oct 2020].

‘Citizen Journalists’ Coverage Of Syria’s War Via YouTube, Twitter “Unexplored Territory”’. 2013. The National [online]. Available at: https://www.thenational.ae/world/citizen-journalists-coverage-of-syria-s-war-via-youtube-twitter-unexplored-territory-1.598409 [accessed 10 Oct 2020].

‘China: Uyghur Citizen-Journalist Completes Fourth Year In Prison | Reporters Without Borders’. 2018. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [online]. Available at: https://rsf.org/en/news/china-uyghur-citizen-journalist-completes-fourth-year-prison [accessed 10 Oct 2020].

CATALINA ALBEANU. 2014. ‘When Journalists Take Sides, What Happens To Reporting Facts?’ Journalism.co.uk [online]. Available at: https://www.journalism.co.uk/news/when-journalists-take-sides-what-happens-to-reporting-facts-/s2/a563004/ [accessed 10 Oct 2020].

REUTERS. 2020. ‘Freedom From Bias – Handbook Of Journalism’. 2008 Thomson Reuters [online]. Available at: http://handbook.reuters.com/index.php?title=Freedom_from_bias [accessed 10 Oct 2020].

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