The importance of photojournalism 

“Being able to capture moments that shape our culture, from the good the bad and the ugly is what makes photojournalism one of the most important branches on the photography tree.”

The world is a strange place at the best of times, but with everything going on right now from global pandemics to all-out war, it is hard to not feel conflicted about almost everything we see and read.

Every day it seems, there is a new scandal amongst some of the world’s leaders, stories of fraud, infidelity, and gross misconduct. Stories about anything other than what is really happening out there and now, more than ever, the trust is fading.

Politicians are struggling to keep up the facade and silencing the people is becoming more difficult with the term “fake news” being a phrase heavily used across social media. Teams of photographers are traveling to the ends of the earth to report on the side of current affairs that they do not want us to us to see, in pursuit of ending corruptive media. From political cover ups, wildlife culling and even famine, there are people paving the way for uncensored and unbiased photojournalism. Allowing people to see exactly what is going on and determine opinions and views based on facts, rather than politically driven narratives designed to control the mases.

 Now more than ever we must take a moment to thank those who dedicate their lives into fighting for freedom of speech and thought, seeking out the truth and giving us a window into reality, through the medium of photography.

But what exactly is photojournalism and why is it so important today?

Origins

Photojournalism has its roots planted deep within in the topic of war but, whenever the word “war” is mentioned most will automatically think back to the great war and World War 2, however Photojournalism and its involvement with war, can be traced back to a man called Roger Fenton who pioneered the field during the Crimean War in 1854.

Fenton was considered the first official war photographer, shooting images that demonstrated the effects of war and conflict. His work was published in the illustrated London news, bringing these images to a mass audience for the first time.

It was a breakthrough moment in time for photographer’s and journalists alike, however as shocking, and commendable as these images were, it has later been said they were still controlled and monitored heavily by the media. It would be a few years yet before photojournalism became what it is today.

Let us fast forward slightly, 1914 to be exact. Technology was advancing by the day and here we saw the turning point in photography. Domestically, cameras were becoming ever more popular amongst the higher-class families, mostly used to commemorate millstones and occasions. Being able to produce one’s own photography was something that elevated status and was a sign of wealth for many. However, it was from July 28th of that year that we finally saw exactly how valuable a tool it really was. On the frontline and in the trenches of warzones, photographs not much bigger than a thumbnail, were being taken and capturing history in a way nobody could have expected.

Thanks to kodak and their invention of an easy to use and carry snapshot camera, many soldiers were able to record their own wartime experiences. With this camera being considered “cheap” and easy to obtain, it soon became obvious that there was a new gap in the market and kodak later readvertised their popular vest pocket kodak camera as the “soldiers’ camera” unintentionally giving the voiceless a voice for the very first time.

The Vest Pocket Kodak took film negatives slightly larger than a postage stamp—just 1⅝ by 2½ inches. This format was the same as the No 0. Folding Pocket Kodak which had been introduced 10 years earlier. However, improved design and manufacturing the camera body in metal instead of wood meant that the VPK could be made much smaller. When closed, the VPK measures just 1 by 2½ by 4¾ inches; the perfect fit for a soldier’s pocket. It was with this bit of equipment that soldiers were able to capture firsthand visual accounts of what war looked like and present the people with sights that nobody could prepare for.

Often developed using a makeshift lightbox, these images could be sent home to families. Sometimes used as shrines for mothers who were mourning the loss of their sons, or as romantic keep sakes for the soldier’s sweethearts, and as poetic as that sounds, we all know how horrifyingly terrible tales that some of these images illustrated. 

Many images showing the more gruesome sides of war were used by government officials as scare tactics to direct the propaganda or use as evidence against perpetuators of crimes of war. Because they could not easily tampered with, during this time the images became the epitome of solid truth.

Nearly 2 million cameras were sold to soldiers and sailors who took part in the great war, and they are still available for purchase on eBay today. The images still live on also, passed down as family heirlooms or used in schools and museums as a way of teaching and preventing history from repeating itself. Although, we now know from ongoing and recent events humanity does not seem to be able to live in peace for even a moment, no matter how grizzly the images are.

It was from this point that photojournalism really became the pinnacle medium for media coverage, designed to summarize what had been written; however, from then on unless they saw it, people just did not believe it, and it is this method of reporting that now dominates newsrooms and has documented history for over 100 years.

The impact on our current lives

 Since the dawn of the internet and introduction of smart phones, photojournalism has become more popular than ever. Bringing global stories to life from every angle, there is a thirst for unsolicited news coverage and the stakes in this competition are high. The bigger the impact, the bigger the price, the bigger the star in the hall of fame. All because people rely on seeing every grim detail to process the reality of what one bullet can do to a man. Or the need to see how a village without water suffers, in order to believe it is really happening. It is a macabre attribute we have become accustomed to and is only possible through photography and film; meaning someone must witness the pain and suffering personally, often putting their own lives in danger in the process.

It’s hard to imagine scrolling through news articles on your social media page or reading the paper without any images, how would you feel if you had to watch television news broadcasts that did not include a few seconds of video? These entities would be incomplete without it and as technology continues to evolve, we  can sit and watch these events play out as they happen, in real time.

Of course, there is still hidden agendas attached to the distribution of certain images. Government corruption will never cease to exist, and it will continue to sway public opinion through clever editing and lack of context. But, we are putting the time in ourselves nowadays to research and educate each other with as much information as possible and this is such an important thing to do. We have so many tools available to us, it is a crime in itself not to use them. Fact check as much as possible and make sure the sources you are using come with a reliable and non-biased reputation.

We do need to take care though, everywhere we look now we are faced with war, disease, poverty, and corruption. Although we owe it the rest of humanity to remain open minded and not run away from the truth, we also need to protect our own mental health and realize there is only so much we can do individually.

We can get easily consumed and the depression can take over when we start to feel helpless. The rabbit run of conspiracy is never ending and we can find ourselves lost whilst searching for the light. On the flip side, we can spend so much time searching in the dark holes that we become desensitized and lose all sense of reality.

We need to learn how to identify a well-orchestrated news story from one that is full of glitches and confusion, and somewhere in the middle will be the content that will do us well to base our opinions from.

Afterall there are 3 sides to every story, especially when it comes to politics.

Now more than ever, with so much visual coverage presented to us, we need to remind ourselves that it is not so bad and that there is joy and happiness out there; no matter how unbalanced the scales may feel at the moment.

From taking a break and turning the tv off or stepping away from our screens helps to relieve our anxieties to spending times with loved ones and investing energy in our hobbies. Anything that will free our mind from the negativity, will give us clarity in the depths of chaos. A side of journalism that I feel is not spoken about enough. 

There are many organizations available to help you if you have been affected by anything you have seen, the Samaritans being one of them. Do not be afraid to talk. Discussion is key and could help someone else down the line. Take caution if photojournalism is a career you are tempted to pursue, I cannot stress enough the importance of thorough research.

So there we have it.

From high profile courtroom cases to the devastation of natural disasters around the globe. 24 hours a day 7 days a week there is a network of photojournalists, devoting their entire life’s into being the one to deliver that big scoop. The case that will rock the world. Or in some cases change it. It is our job as the general public to decipher those reports, filter them accordingly and remain neutral until we have the facts we need to create an informed opinion.

Being able to capture moments that shape our culture, from the good the bad and the ugly is what makes photojournalism one of the most important branches of the photography tree.

I would like the end this article by giving my own personal thanks to all the photojournalist that have risked, and sometimes sacrificed, their lives into giving the general public an honest account of the world we live in. Breaking barriers and rewriting history; without you we would still be in the dark. With your efforts we have knowledge. With your images we have truth.

And to all the fallen soldiers whose muddy faces still smile on thumbnail sized photographs, lest we forget.

Thank you for reading and happy ClickASnapping!

Sarah-Jane Flutter

Amateur photographer

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