Updated: Oct 30, 2018
by April Zhu
April Zhu's article brings up many good ethical points for photographers – mostly photojournalists. This article starts with looking at democratization of photography. No longer are the newspapers and mainstream media the only source in photojournalism. Every photographer can create stories. If a photographer sees and posts a different story than the newspapers, that story can be just as powerful.
The quote to start the article sets the tone for what is to come:
Photography was the privilege of Western inventors, experimenters, and anthropologists. With the advent of affordable cameras, photography has finally begun to decolonize.
The article is about photojournalism, but as National Geographic photographer Karen Kasmauski notes in her interview with PhotoYoga, anytime we put a photo online on our social media, we become part of the new world of photojournalism. The example given in the article is Alexandra Bell’s “counternarratives” of the Ferguson story run by the New York Times.
The article emphasizes positive change in the photography noting that everyone with a camera has a voice. This is particularly necessary as Zhu notes that the official photojournalism world is not very diverse - even today. She highlights statistics that in the U.S. only 16% are photographers of color and only 15% are women. This limits the diversity of viewpoints that are being seen in the mainstream media.
The article calls attention to projects like The Everyday Projects that are using photography for social change. The Everyday Projects seek to challenge stereotypes; showing what life is really like for everyday people. For instance, The Everyday Projects include “Everyday Afghanistan,” “Everyday American Muslim” and “Everyday Black America” Anyone can contribute to the Everyday Projects through their hashtags on Instagram or start their own Everyday Project.
The Everyday Project tries to counter the sensationalism and media-driven stereotypes that accompany these groups of people. There are many more similarities than differences between people, but the photos that get the most press show the unique or sensational aspects of some cultures.
Photojournalist Cristina Fletes discussed this very topic recently in her interview with PhotoYoga.
Throughout the article, Zhu calls attention to the ethics of photojournalism. The test case used in the article is a recent scandal involving photographer Alessio Mamo in his series called “Dreaming Food”. Mamo’s posed photographs of starving children photographed in front of luscious fake food caused outrage in the photojournalism community and created a controversy around whether these types of photos were ok or not.
The final part of the article includes responses from four prominent photojournalists on the Mamo scandal and the democratization of photojournalism.
In regards to the Mamo scandle, Elie Gardner notes:
“I believe circumstances like this force us to pause and think about why we do what we do. We need to continually examine our motivations. We need to consider both how the individuals in our photographs and the general public will be impacted by the photos we take. We need to make sure we are offering viewers context to a singular moment seen in a photograph. There are many ways to tell a story, and whether a photograph is good or not is extremely subjective.
There are many ways that Mamo could have woken up the West to food waste without using young, malnourished Indian children as models. Did he think about how the experience would impact them? Not all conceptual ideas we have are good, and there will be images that divide the industry.”
Another question to the four photojournalists asks whether they are optimistic or pessimistic in the view that photography is more accessible and therefore more democratic. Danielle Villasana responded:
“Definitely optimistic! The fact that more and more people have access to control of their own stories has helped make the industry, as a whole, more diverse. That’s why The Everyday Projects resonate so deeply with me and thousands of others around the world — suddenly, with access to a phone camera and free sharing platforms such as Instagram, people have the freedom to control their own narratives. This, of course, has its own set of issues, but it adds more perspectives to the mix beyond the mainstream — often Eurocentric, male-dominated, white — narratives.”
There is a lot to think about in this article.
The article breaks down into two parts, the first is a peak into the new world of photojournalism that potentially includes everyone and an argument that we should be focusing on what is universal across cultures rather than sensationalism and focusing on images with shock value. The second part of the article is the result of interviews with four photojournalists concerning issues such as bias in the media, the divisiveness of news, and the way conflict is currently reported. The thoughts are deep and thought-provoking.
In the end, I am left with issues to ponder and with the reminder from Karen Kasmauski that once any of us publishes a photo online it becomes part of this new world of photojournalism, the issues are no longer just for the photojournalists – we’ve all become photojournalists.
Article Written by Jennifer Mishra
Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
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