We all know that black and white, Holga / Lensbaby enhanced (?) with a touch of personal sensibility photo “journalism” is a dying breed (thank G~d !) and that it has created in its wake a lamenting song of despair : Photojournalism is dying. Well yes, bad photojournalism, the one that desperately tries to mix art and journalism into “made for museum” photography certainly is, if it ever lived.
These ” I have smoked too much pot ” exposes of blurry, highly grainy ( I don’t shoot digital, digital is for the common man), insufferably pretentious images that make great conversation pieces at photo exhibitions or gallery opening. They have hurt the photojournalism community, desperate for anything original and new, at the expense of real reporting. Cameras, unlike paint, were invented to replicate reality, not alter it.
In the midst of this current debacle of pro photojournalism came the Web 2.0 preachers of community driven content. Crowd, they say, is the new journalist. The masses are everywhere and equipped with cameras, whether in cell phones or in point and shoot. It is multiple eyes everywhere rather than two somewhere.
Furthermore, technology had made the idea very simple, and cheap, to create. For about $300, anyone can purchase an off the shelf package that will manage a fully functional image database. The rest is wait and see. And so we wait. and wait. And as of today, we are still waiting. For numerous reasons.
One source : A citizen photojournalist site would make sense if there was only one. Photo editors could immediately add it to there daily scouting and verify if anything of interest has been put up. There are so many of them today, including Flickr and other photo sharing sites that it becomes impossible to find, if it exists at all, the right image. It is almost like knocking on everyones door and asking if they have an image. Extremely laborious and completely counter productive.
Training: when I hear an explosion or shooting, I duck and protect myself. I do not take pictures. A pro, on the other hand will do the opposite. Immediately. You cannot learn this type of reaction. And once I am finished protecting myself, I will look at what happened, not take pictures. I will only take pictures when I feel perfectly safe, which is, as far as news is concerned, too late.
Composition : There is story telling in photo journalism. There is investigation. there is composition. Trying to explain in one image a situation is as hard as writing a full length article, if not harder. A pro has an audience in his/her head and shoots to explain. You need to take an event and bring it to someone who wasn’t there as if he was. A passer-by will take a picture of whatever is burning, moving or looking odd. His/her audience is himself. It has the same attention then a dog.
Editing: Albeit probably helped by the sites owners, an amateur has no clue on what sells. Nor will they ever. A pro is always confronted to news event.An amateur, maybe once in their lifetime. How do you want them to know what images to send ? A pro looks at what has been published and what hasn’t. A happy snapper couldn’t care less, unless if he or she witnessed the event.
Rewards: With CNN, Msnbc, ABC.com and so on urging their readers to upload images directly to their site with absolutely no other compensation then to see their images published, photocitizen are also being lured away by publishers.
Finally, and this is probably the main reason we are seeing this stillbirth, Photo agencies have always been in the business of recuperating images of amateurs that have worthwhile pictures. Some even have full time dedicated people just in charge of doing these pick ups and quickly securing exclusive rights. Unlike to Citizen journalist site that wait and hope for a great image to come up, agencies will invest time and resources in finding these images. There is no competition there as web 2.0 community sites have none of this knowledge and capability. They sit and wait while their source of income is being professionally poached by smooth operators.
So what do we see on these sites ?: a lot of images of car crash ( always a winner in an amateur’s heart), bad images of celebrities at a restaurant or nightclub, fires, lots of fires, and other useless images. The junk of citizen photojournalism. All this spread out over hundreds of “use me” websites. Even if these sites would follow the microstock model of charging a penny an image, they would still not work as no one needs these images.
So, we can safely predict that citizen photo journalism will be the first to blow when the web 2.0 bubble explodes.