PhotoJournalists the world over are facing an existential crisis.
I am interested in the experiences of others as our international profession comes under treat by the relentless destruction caused by the erosive effects of the internet and its consumer technology.
To try and visualise a clear route through the carnage that has swept like a Tsunami through society, sweeping all in it path, is quite a task.
For the last 25 years I have worked as a photojournalist for various agencies and publications across the globe.
It is a job that has taken me around the world and given me experiences that I could only have dreamt about were I to have chosen another profession and I am truly thankful.
I started my career working freelance at a local paper in Wales in the UK where by a twist of fate covering a local cricket match turned into a streak of luck when the local paper photographers car broke down and the pictures that I took made the paper. There followed a period in Journalism college studying Photojournalism on an industry course within the UK and some time trying my hand at freelancing in London during the early 1990’s. By another streak of luck I was employed by a British international press agency which threw me on a plane to Los Angeles to join its cavalier crew of young journalists and photographers blazing a trail in magazines and newspapers throughout the 1990’s.I found myself with a battered Domke camera bag carrying Canon EOS 600 cameras and flashes all around the USA from Alaska to Hawaii. Rarely did a month pass without a plane trip to some distant location or thousands of miles driven in a hire car,tiring but great. They covered News and Features and Celebrity stories and made quite a mark on the Industry.
They were quite literally riding a wave.
After my return to the UK, I worked for a national newspaper title in the UK for the next 12 years.We covered News,Features and Celebrity stories in the UK and traveled internationally from locations in Europe to Africa and even south America on assignment. It has been a long strange trip.
The Industry is in a strange place now and I fear for its future.
Photographs and the effort it takes to get them seems to have become undervalued. National newspaper rates particularly for online use have become so low it hardly justifies spending the now overpriced fuel to go out and take them.If images are used online it is less likely that print editions will use the stills the next day as its by then old news. Its a vicious circle. The industry is like a dog chasing its tail that it has finally caught it and is now in the process of eating itself. Many colleagues have been forced to hang up their cameras and go and do something less satisfying to make a living. Its simply become not feasable to carry on when the media is just as happy using shakey smartphone footage and horrible audio rather than correctly exposed, high quality images with professional quality lenses and fine tuned fill flash, used with the aquired knowledge of years of trial and error and judgment of the exposure and composition.
All the talk of” FREE” and” CHEAP” and “EVERYONES A PHOTOGRAPHER NOW”,has sent accountants into a feeding frenzy that is sadly a knee jerk reaction not based on careful analysis.
There are horror stories such as the Chicago-Sun Times sacking its entire team of photographers and pressure to force reporters to file reports on their iphones.The National Union of Journalists in the UK has called for an end to the news video targets local newspaper journalists in the UK are being pressured into meeting in addition to their normal job of reporting. Many are ill equipped and inexperienced at doing so and there is clearly a problem with a deluge of pointless video making.Clearly you have to have a story worth making a video of in the first place and this news sense is clearly not well developed enough. Also there is the case of health and safety in often dangerous situations and the added workload of editing the footage into something useful which can often take hours and require technical knowledge. The case of the Chicago-Sun Times will become more clear after a period of analyzing their sales figures compared to their rivals who still employ photographers and those results will certainly be of interest.
If the opinion of their Chairman Michael Ferro is anything to go by its going to be a long uphill battle. I am very sympathetic toward [the photographers]. If I were in their shoes, I would feel bad too. It would be like you’re a carriage driver and the cars come and you’re really upset that you can’t have your buggy whip and hit your horse anymore.”
Michael Ferro Chairman of the Sun-Times Media.
Also a similar horror story has revealed itself across the pond here in the UK the newspaper publisher Johnston Press has announces that it is to sack 24 photographers from its company sending more shockwaves through the industry and almost certainly commiting themselves to self fulfilled oblivion!
It may be a period of confused transition by publishers ill advised by bean counters and I certainly hope so. I can forsee that we may be looking at the end of newspapers as we know it and their gradual, if not accelerated migration to that of tablets and laptops in their entirety, is only around the corner.How this happens we shall see but images will still be needed and publications need to establish a cash flow somehow rather being free which is what decimating the industry at the moment. Whether it is through paywalls or sponsorship or advertising,we shall see what the future holds but I hope they hurry up and lay the foundations as pretty soon there wont be many good people left to see it through.
For decades newspapers have been the glue of community and with the mass acceptance of tablet computers as the device of choice for millions and with the current campaigns to cut their price to affordable levels I suspect the full transition is just around the corner.Even supermarkets are jumping on the bandwagon selling their own models packed with targeted marketing programs. it will certainly save a lot of trees but I’m sure the loss of rare earth minerals will probably counter balance that.
It will be sad if we descend into a planet glued to screens for all of our information at the cost of a lack of communication with those around us, other than by text and email.
Parents ignoring their kids and kids ignoring their parents,a sight increasing in family living rooms worldwide.
I guess thats progress.
However I cannot help but fear that technology can advance but society can also regress.
In a recent development a french newspaper, Liberation, published an entire edition with spaces where the photographs should have been in protest at the way photography is currently under assault in publications worldwide,this send waves of praise throughout the photojournalistic community.The British Journal of Photography published an article on it here: http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/news/2307127/french-newspaper-removes-all-images-in-support-of-photographers
Keen to adjust to change,one thing that is clear, is that video is becoming an integral part of what we do as journalists and for sure it is becoming a part of our kit bags. I have included a panasonic sd700 in my own along with a senheisser mic with a softie and a juiced link XLR mixer.It provides a superb internet ready combination for churning out mp4 clips with ease.I have experimented with DSLR footage but frankly I prefer to keep my stills footage separate from my Video in my workflow and find the video camera appoach to be far more practical on a day to day basis.
Being a little on the nostalgic side ,in the early days I would travel with film cameras.In the 1990’s it was the EOS 600 camera body which rattled off at an amazing rate of frames.I superceded that with Nikon F4 cameras and then the Nikon F100. The lenses have remained pretty standard ranging from the wide angle 17-35mm ,the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm f2.8 and 300mm f 2.8 in their various incarnations. Currently the Nikon D700 is my body of choice as it can be easily broken down to a small body without the grip.
I also carry an excellent lumix lx7 with its 24mm f1.4 .
What has changed for the better is the way that flash can now easily be intergrated into the workflow in a manner that is far less time consuming than multiple manual flash however manual flash still very much as its place,I own about 6 speedlight flashes but still also rely on two metz 45 flashes when basic manual flash is required.These are all enhanced by the fantastic pocket wizard radio slaves that have been around for quite a while.
When it comes to bags I’ve always had a preference for Domke shoulder bags.The original f2 was for years my bag of choice but as cameras became bigger I turned to the J1 series as they fitted the 70-200mm better.However with a lot of time on airplanes I ended up using the Think Tank airport range to transport gear as their wheeled cases are simply the best.
When I first started,we carried film cameras and boxes of chemicals and processed films in our hotel rooms when at remote locations. We then scanned them on a Nikon scanner and then uploaded them on an early Motorola phone with a data cable using software called Z term or used a standard phone line.I recall one hilarious time in Mexico trying to send exclusive pictures of Oprah Winfrey while wandering through the Cancun jungle trying to find a hotel with a non crackling phone line that I could use. In the end I had to pay a hotel owner $1000 to take his fax line off the wall, ah the years of media madness!!!
I welcome your comments and experiences.
If you are Interested there are just a few examples of my work at www.surreypix.co.uk