The magazine VII combines still and video images, blurring the boundary between agency and media.
Equipped with high-definition video tools packed inside their digital SLR cameras, photojournalists now have access to a whole new market. We talk to photographers about they sell and distribute their footage
Photojournalism is in crisis. It’s been in crisis for years, but with the economic downturn and drastic cuts in advertising, newspapers and magazines are tightening their belts even further. Assignments, once press photographers’ main source of revenue, are becoming scarce entities, forcing photojournalists to rely on other sources of funding such as grants and partnerships with NGOs.
Video modes in digital SLR cameras have allowed photojournalists to add a new skill to their repertoire, particularly since their visual experience and aesthetic sense offers them a head start over others. Photojournalist Danfung Dennis, for example, has been working with video as well as his more traditional still photography gigs. “Still photography continues to be important in my workflow,” he says. “I’m bringing everything from still photography to the moving images.
“I’m looking for the same light, composition and emotion that I would for a still and then trying to understand the language of cinema. What I’m trying to do is combine the ethics, the methods and the aesthetics of photojournalism with the tradition of cinema to explore the emerging language of cinematic journalism.”
If done well the result can surpass the quality of video shot by traditional cameramen, interacting more closely with the subject. But getting the footage is just the beginning. After that photographers still need to sell the content to media outlets.
Some are more successful than others. John McHugh, who has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006, first started playing with audio before moving to video. He shoots, edits and creates audio slideshow and multimedia presentations, as well as video reports for The Guardian, which has commissioned the photographer, on and off, for the past two years. McHugh also continues to shoot advertising. “Some people look at advertising as a sell-out corporate job,” he says, but it’s these shoots that allow him to take on lesser-paid editorial assignments in war zones.
Other photographers are forced to rely on grants to produce and distribute multimedia projects. When freelance photographer Axelle de Russé won the Canon Female Photojournalist Award in 2007, for example, it allowed her to complete a project on concubines in China. Another grant allowed her to produce a “webdocu”, or online documentary, for a French network.
Other avenues are also opening up for photographers. Since its launch last year, Demotix has been gathering and distributing news-based photography fed by a network of 10,000 stringers, local freelance photographers and citizen journalists. The goal was to offer a space where anyone would be able to tell their stories, which would then be pushed to the mainstream media, offering an alternative newswire to Associated Press and Reuters.
Last month, the community-based website entered the video realm, with the same strategy “to bring a different voice to the news agenda”, as Turi Munthe, Demotix CEO, puts it. Videos can be shot using a variety of cameras, from the basic Flip to more advanced HD-DSLRs, and the site is accepting submission in a wide range of file formats, such as .avi, .wmv, MP4 or mov among many others.
Demotix acts as an intermediary between photographers, networks and newspapers, but other photographers hope they can convince the mainstream media to commission them for video. Broadcasters such as the BBC have been reserved and unwilling to make the jump, says photographer and influential HD-DSLR blogger Philip Bloom, but that could change dramatically in the next few months. Across the pond, CNN has already made a move in that direction. It sent five photographers to Haiti to record the aftermath of the huge earthquake and ended up using the still images on air. The next step will be for networks such as CNN to commission video from these same photographers. Incidentally, the only other America media to head to the Caribbean country were the New York Times and The Washington Post.
Failing that, photographers will have no choice but to create their own opportunities. “The traditional medium that photojournalism communicated through – the newspapers and magazines – is in crisis,” says Dennis. “Their models are now longer sustainable in the digital age. The rate with which people are engaging online or via their mobile devices is exploding, so the medium is changing, and I think we have to change with the medium.”
Magnum Photos has already jumped on the bandwagon. Last month, it released, its branded iPhone application, in collaboration with Reporters Without Borders. Costing €2.99, the app offers 101 reports shot by Magnum photographers including Robert Capa and Martin Parr. It also includes a full report on each photographer, as well as a biography and information on the subject. Magnum will update the content with new reports every week, priced €0.79 each. The initiative could easily translate to the video world, as VII Photo is already doing with VII The Magazine. The traditional agencies are transforming from simple intermediaries to direct distributors, of both images and videos.
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