Thursday, June 6, 2013

Photojournalism is not newsphotography

I always have been proud to say I was a newsphotographer. Newsphotography was capturing the moment to share with readers and preserve what had happened. Captured in time so you could look back the next day or 40 years later. News photographers were recording history.

Grabbing Andre Kertesz's catalog from his 1985 exhibit, I started reading Sandra Phillip's biography of Kertesz and it surprised me to read how in the 1930's Kertesz (who had come to America to work for the news agency Keystone) describe the newsphotographer has "an assembly line worker charged with making the same photograph over and over again."

Remember back then, there was a lot of competition and with the Depression, you wanted to keep your staff job. Even though it didn't pay much, it was a job.

Back then the photographers looked after each other. If your 4x5 film holder messed up the sheet of film, a competitor would give you one of his shots. They stood together so everyone got the same picture, so the editor wouldn't get upset about the competition beating them. They had families to take care of and decided to play it safe.

This was before television and the Internet, the latest technology was the magazine, with better reproduction they focused on subjects, food, fashion and the news.

Kertesz saw the freelance photographer as a "different breed." Where he and Henri Cartier-Bresson had worked for weekly newspapers in Paris, he saw taking photos for the American magazine as "producing interpretive picture essays that in the highest form expressed what they felt about the subjects they were asked to observe. Photographers recognized that they were of two social classes, one slightly blue-collar, the other philosophical and intellectual."

Okay, I don't see newspaper photography ever getting intellectual. We did move away from copying each other, with less competition we were creative and refused to pose the subject, but tell the story and show what was happening. It was my goal to get the newspaper with 80 dot screen to crop tight and run it big.

With the Internet we can see slide shows of small 3-col photos, and newspapers are now running the photos smaller than ever before. We aren't using our minds, like the intellectual Kertesz.

Looking back I see the photographers in the 30's as the Internet today, trying to take advantage of the new presses, offset, and national circulation. Buy the time the 50's rolled around, many magazines had folded, but there were a dozen fighting it out for exclusive stories. But at this time the pioneers like Andre Kertesz and Walker Evans had been pushed aside, Kertesz was productive as staff photographer for Conde Nast's House and Garden while Walker Evans was an editor for Fortune.

It wasn't till they retired that they truly became artists. Exhibiting photos they took in the 1920s and 30s. Both played with the Polaroid, like the Instagram today!

I find it interesting seeing the black and white photo get replaced by color photos. Does it get the message across better? And now, just like the switch to color we are going video. Sound and motion helps tell the story, but what do you see as images come and go, what do you remember?

I like the still photo. It stops the action and gives you time to look at the background, look at what they are wearing, look into their eyes. I still like B&W! Without having to worry about making sure the sky was blue, using flash, etc., with black and white you simply focused on the facts.

Newsphotographers became photojournalists thanks to the magazines in the 1930's.

But are we artists?