The Curmudgeon on Photojournalism by Ron Steinman

When you manipulate a photo, is it still photojournalism? Is it journalism of any kind?

At what point when taking a photo, does a photojournalist forget his or her role in capturing the moment of an event – of revealing the truth of a story? When is a photograph not a photograph in today’s world of seemingly anything goes to make or create a picture that did not exist until “played” with by an app? The many apps that help change a photo grow daily. Some mentioned here may disappear by tomorrow. We have apps such as Histaminic, Instagram, Socialcam, Viddy, Camera+, Camera Genius – the list goes on, the apps are ceaseless, ever growing, usually created by people who know very little, if anything about the art and craft of photography. Of course, we must also mention one of the father’s of photo enhancement, Photoshop.

Professional street photographers, photojournalists especially, and even fine art photographers should beware of the seduction that comes with using photo apps to create images that are not real to the eye, what the lens sees at the moment of creation. Most probably understand this but there are still too many who do not. They are the ones who put the integrity of the photographer in question. Using an app to change or enhance a photo the user is not recording the event as it happened. This makes the image something different from its original intent. It may work with some fine art photography where the aim is not always to recreate reality but to enhance it. For me, the only reality is that conceived or generated by the person behind the camera.

Because one takes a picture does not mean that person is a photographer. Apple has a TV advertisement that makes the over-the-top point that more pictures are taken with the iPhone than any other camera. The implication is that everyone is a photographer. That is good for those who sell smart phones the major source of all photos today. However, most of the pictures taken with smart phones are not very good and the value they have is personal, a keepsake but valueless as art. Also, equality in the use of a device does not make for lasting art. Wielding a paintbrush does not mean everyone can be a Rembrandt. Mostly taking pictures is only saving memories for the sake of, well, saving memories. Good for home viewing and nostalgia but not worth more than that. Remember the Brownie film camera? Not much art but lots of nostalgia. Recalling family outings and faces has value for family and not much else.

Citizen journalism once a popular assist to journalism, even sometimes an asset, seems to be fading fast and losing its value. These days there is a new category for photos or videos of unique events caught with a smart phone. Increasingly I see the term public history used instead of citizen journalism. It means simply that the recording of an event even when important and singular is not journalism until a trained journalist interprets what the photo or video means. It may be the start of what is the new normal for the accidental capture of what journalism did for hundreds of years. We can only hope. Time will tell. Maybe.

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