The act of looking at a photograph is not passive. We look for familiar signals that we can quickly interpret as a message.
Let’s take a step back here. Our brains are wired to monitor everything around us, interpret it and make predictions on what will happen next. We do this million of times a second and because of built-in efficiencies, we use shortcuts. A lot of them. For example, we know trees are static so we know that they will not move or change location. So we can safely ignore them. In fact, we ignore pretty much anything already familiar and focus on what’s new in our surrounding. Anything moving is considered new. We read and interpret clues which we decipher using a combination of our memory and education. We also use something much stronger and that is our cultural symbolism. For example, we learn, although no one has really taught us, that the color red signifies danger and urgency. It is thus a color we notice faster than any other because it carries a combined message of imminence and necessity. Another signal that we use constantly is other people faces. For example, we are experts in detecting fear in other people’s faces because it can tell us of a danger we haven’t seen and save our lives. But not all signals we read are about danger. We can interpret joy from a smile or a look. We interpret shapes too, reading sharp edge triangles as more threatening as the rounded edges of a circle. In fact symbolism tells us that we read a lot of significances in shapes like circle and triangles.
We read, interpret and understand those visual signs not only at an amazing speed but also in a non cognitive mode, almost instinctively. They reach us at an emotional level, rather than a rational one.
What does this have to do with photography? Everything.
We interpret photographs using the same tools as we use to process reality. We engage with still images by reading them using the same signal language. When first exposed to a photograph, we immediately process it using our decoding instinct and add our understanding based on what we interpret.
We wrote about this in a previous post on the differences between aesthetics and substance. A pretty pictures is just that, an image with little interpretive meaning, something we like but that doesn’t tell us anything. An image with substance is one that carries strong signals and symbolics, to which we react and engage.
Professional photographers are experts in finding and integrating those signals within their photographs. In the case of news photographers, they can do it extremely quickly and efficiently. They capture those signals that best convey the situation within one frame so that when we see the image, we can immediately decode them. Take the recent Boston bombing for example. Professionals photographers did not shoot an overall picture of the scene but rather ran in to capture faces that showed pain, fear, confusion along with signs of panic and emergencies (like guns drawn).
This ability that pro photographers have to find and capture those revealing signals and include them in their photographs is what separates them from the amateurs.This is why the citizen photojournalists will never replace the professionals. Because they do not know how to use this language. They can read it, they just can’t write it.The same way we can all read Shakespeare but none of us can write it. Amateurs use their cameras as a descriptive tool, making statements like “I was here” or “I had a beer with so and so” while professionals grab symbolic analogues of our sensory and emotional experiences to create a representation. One describes, the other explains.
The innate ability that pros have to recognize and integrate strong cultural signals into each and every of their images that viewers can, in turn, decode and interpret is what makes the thousand words we so often refer to when talking about photography. It is at the core of their talent and universal appeal. It is, finally, what indefinitely separates them from other people with cameras.
Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/XuJ1DJK8tv přes @melchp
Is discounting citizen photojournalism the only way you can feel good about yourself? seriously???
I believe you misunderstood the point of post.
should have used another headline..
and you should read more than just the headline
You make a broad assumption about amateurs and citizen photojournalists. That they are all unable of framing a good photo, telling a good story. big mistake.
I have nothing against citizen photojournalists or amateur photographers.I made no comments about framing or telling a good story. I am just explaining the differences that one might not have clearly seen between amateurs and pros.
yes, again, read the post
Meg Handler liked this on Facebook.
Thoughts of a Bohemian http://t.co/tn1m8H0F0a :: Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter
Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/2OXv3HbFPa
Yes! + why local photoj’s = crucial. http://t.co/ZLV3jjPZhW RT @theclick: Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/4oYxtmEnVz
Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/k3RLGjYx4K via @theclick
@MatthewProsser Curious to know if you think you speak the language: Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/ncgBti66nn
I heart this essay so much…
A quick disclosure: I’m a newspaperman. I’m the managing editor for a small-town newspaper (daily circulation of 7,000). I oversee a staff of 21 professionals in our newsroom.
There are so many times when a young reporter will return from a photo run beaming, boasting, “I’ve got the perfect picture, chief! I’m talking Pulitzer Prize stuff!” I take a look… it’s an artfully-framed shot of a plate of food, hard focus on beads of condensation on a wine glass, brilliant color and lighting. It’s beautiful.
“Can’t use it,” I say, “Save it for your blog.”
As his mouth drops open and his eyes well up, I ask him, “What’s the story? You doing a report on local restaurants?”
“No, ah,” he stammers, “I just thought it’d make for a nice standalone…”
“It’s a lovely photo, but what’s the story?” I respond. “A standalone shot is a picture that tells a story. All this says is that you have a good eye. You’re showing off — which is fine — but show off on Instagram. This is a newspaper.”
With the onset of well-intentioned amateurs taking up expensive cameras and taking cool angle shots of mundane objects or landscapes, then using free apps to make the shot look like it was taken with a 1972-issue Polaroid, I wonder if it’s creating a rather inflated sense of how one views the calibre of their photography.
The professional journalists on my staff can swoop in on a car wreck, an awards assembly, or a local t-ball tournament and snap solid shots in a matter of minutes. The contrast between the art they bring back — and the shots taken by locals that pop up on Facebook — is evident by anyone with the training and/or experience to tell the difference. I would wager our readers would be able to tell the difference as well, albeit on an instinctive level.
At the same time, *I* wouldn’t go so far as to say citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter, as sometimes we’ve received a decent courtesy shot from a well-meaning citizen with pretty good gear. But I don’t think it matters near as much as the laity might think. Not just anyone can do this and do it right. That goes for any line of work.
i totally agree but i have less faith in the general public to care if they’re seeing a good photo or not. we’re so bombarded and over saturated with media of all types.
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Stephen M. Barrett liked this on Facebook.
True but will be paid? Will it prevent us from being replaced? Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/cGCGFz5cUD via @melchp
RT @theclick: Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/2OXv3HbFPa
A lire, hle blog de Paul Melcher http://t.co/OJdlWTq6we
Joel Halioua liked this on Facebook.
Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter — by @melchp. http://t.co/u91x1gjZQZ
Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/8a6swMg0sA via @melchp
which is exactly why they still and will always remember the “great” photos and not the majority mass of garbage
Ask a 20-year old what a great image is.
Food for thought: ‘Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter’ | http://t.co/6KM9xcjKbk
This ability that pro photographers have to find and capture those revealing signals and include them in their… http://t.co/uzjSav2LxY
Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/RzyMnfoKfX via @melchp
Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/Q15AhdgzOd via @melchp
Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/fnqqKm4dX7
Why citizen photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/BdsTncxNj9 via @melchp
Por qué el “fotoperiodismo ciudadano” tiene el mismo futuro que el “periodismo ciudadano” (¿alguien se acuerda?) http://t.co/uxBAiXLqPU
well said – Why citizen #photojournalism doesn’t matter http://t.co/h1X177fJSo via @melchp
What separates a #photojournalist from a camera operator? http://t.co/vXKydV4VGC
RT @ipsphoto: What separates a #photojournalist from a camera operator? http://t.co/vXKydV4VGC
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