Four months after Neil Burgess famously called time of death on photojournalism, the debate is still raging. In fact, it’s been around for decades, as photographer Michael Kamber tells Phil Coomes of the BBC. “I remember arriving in New York in 1985 only to find that I'd arrived too late: photojournalism was dead. This was common knowledge - everybody said so.”
Kamber admits that, today, he’s the one calling photojournalism dead. But, he adds, it’s merely the passing of his “system”, his “model”, with today’s generation of photojournalists creating and prospering into their own. I spoke with six young and emerging photographers, asking them what their take on the state of photojournalism is.
“Photojournalism is alive, it's just very hungry,” says Luceo photographer Matt Eich. “Hungry for work, for outlets, hungry for the next step. The former gatekeepers and funding sources are struggling for a number of reasons, and because a lot of photojournalists have been reliant on a select few clients, they too are falling on hard times. It has been established that the current editorial model for photojournalism isn't sustainable, in newspapers, magazines or on the web – yet. But if we are open to diversifying our business then there is a living to be made.”
In fact photographers now have to take on a whole new role, says photographer Ilan Godfrey. “Not only do they need to have the highest in photographic skills but also have the ability to run a business, develop a brand, and market their work through different avenues. You have to be enterprising and proactive,” he says. “The style in which photographers work has changed, this is key to opening up more outlets for distributing and selling your work. Whether it is published on the pages of a magazine, within a book, on the web as a multimedia piece or on the walls of a gallery, your work needs to fit within these different contexts. Taking advantage of all these different outlets that are available is essential in bringing your projects to a wider audience.”
And that’s what Dutch photographer Rob Hornstra has been doing with his self-published books and magazines. Speaking to Melanie McWhorter he says: “What you see is that we, photographers and documentary makers, are slowly starting to move away from all traditional stuff, not only because of economic reasons. We should start thinking from scratch what we do with our work. I believe an important reason for this is that right now everything is possible. The crisis in the editorial world gives photographers a lot of freedom. You don't have to think about publishers or magazine editors anymore. You can do whatever you want.”
He adds: “Why not distribute your work via IKEA instead of [book publisher] D.A.P.? You reach many more people if you distribute your work via IKEA. I am not seriously investigating this idea, but what I want to make clear is that we have to delete all our old-fashioned ideas and start thinking over again from scratch.”
But beyond the debate about what these new avenues might be, the new generation of photojournalists is also looking at their role with a different eye. “Of course there are the shrinking budgets,” says Peter DiCampo. “There's also the fact that the wire services have a wider coverage than before, using more local photographers - daily news in Iraq, for example, is basically covered by Iraqi wire photojournalists, and they do a fine job. So the previous structure of having to send someone from across the globe just to cover the news is gone - there's no need or budget, unless the person has a particularly new or interesting idea. And that's really the point we've reached - we deal in ideas now, often more than we deal in news. Sure, many magazine editors want the story to be tied to the news in some way, but it has to go several steps beyond that.”
This year’s 17th World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass is the perfect example. “The images are viable for multiple outlets and show a very deep personal introspection or personal investment in each of the stories,” says Eich. “These are young photographers who are putting it all on the line to do what they love. The theme this year was ‘Persistence’, which is really what it all boils down to. If you are constantly running forward eventually you'll get somewhere, as long as you can pace yourself and not burn out.”
In fact, says Eich, what needs to be debated is not whether photojournalism is dead, but rather how these young photographers can push the medium forward, “make it less self-reflective and use new technology and modes of distribution to reach a wider audience and inform more people about relevant issues around the world and in our own back yards.”
For some, the debate doesn’t even exist, says Munem Wasif. “I live in a country where photojournalism was never alive. I think this whole discussion is very much based on western industry. But I think that it was always tough to publish real stories. Now, photojournalism is taking a new shape, and we, as photographers, have to adopt a new language or platform for it.”
And, the older generation shouldn’t be discouraging younger photographers from entering the field. “It always amazes me when people talk about how young photographers should reconsider becoming photographers because of a changing industry,” says Anastasia Taylor-Lind. “People like me only care about making good work and covering important issues.” Eich agrees. “It is very rare that I hear photographers from my generation moaning about the death of photojournalism,” he says. “We are all too excited about the possibilities and too busy trying to create our own path while still learning the ropes.”
For some of them, the label “photojournalist” isn’t even important. “I am a storyteller,” says Hornstra. “I do not even really care about the medium although I mainly use this medium right now. I can imagine that - at a certain point - I will switch to film or text or a combination, or something else. I don't worry about that. For me it is all about the story, not about the medium.”
“I'm a photojournalist because that is the label applied to the kind of work I do,” adds Eich. “But in truth I'm just a curious person with a camera, seeking out intimacy with strangers and striving to increase understanding and dispel fear, not only for others but also myself.”
Matt Eich - www.luceoimages.com
Ilan Godfrey - www.ilangodfrey.co.uk
Rob Hornstra - www.robhornstra.nl
Peter DiCampo - www.peterdicampo.com
Munem Wasif - www.munemwasif.com
Anastasia Taylor-Lind - www.anastasiataylorlind.com
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