Photojournalism Research Paper

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Photojournalism emerged in two distinct phases: during the late nineteenth century with the use of photographic images in newspapers and magazines as a new form of covering the news, and during the 1920s when photojournalism matured with the aid of technological advancements and was recognized as a form of documentary expression in most parts of the world. Unlike the spread of printing—or television later— photojournalism as a professional practice appeared almost simultaneously throughout Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. Thus, by the mid-1920s photographic expansion in Japan included the use of Leica cameras and access to the visions of Neue Sachlichkeit and Bauhaus practices in Germany, while similar developments in China were also directed by Western influences, although (between 1966 and the 1980s) the Cultural Revolution slowed the spread of photojournalism.

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The beginnings of photojournalism occurred in the middle of the nineteenth century: photographers documented the US American-Mexican war in the 1840s; James Robertson and Felice Beato (England) photographed uprisings in India and China in the 1850s and 1860s; while Roger Fenton (England) covered the Crimean war in 1855 and Francis Frith (England) visited the Nile in 1856. Mathew Brady (USA)—with the aid of Alexander Gardner and George N. Barnard, among others—produced Civil War images in the United States between 1862 and 1864, and Jimmy Hare (USA) began working as a staff photographer for the Illustrated American in 1889. He later traveled to Cuba and also photographed the Russo-Japanese War, the Mexican Revolution, the Balkan War, and World War I before his retirement in 1922. Frequently, travel photographers and those accompanying expeditions, also worked as photo- journalists.

The rise of photojournalism parallels the techno-logical, social, and economic developments of the times. Technological innovations included the perfection of printing techniques to reproduce photo- graphic images (halftones): beginning with the New York Daily Graphic (USA), 1873, or Le Journal Illustre (France), 1886, although the US press did not use halftones regularly until 1897. Also important was the development of flexible, transparent film (George Eastman, 1889), and the invention of smaller cameras (Ermanox, Leica/Germany, 1925), faster films (35 mm, Kodak/USA, 1923, reversible emulsion (AGFA/Germany, 1923), and the introduction of electronic flash equipment (Vacu-Blitz/Germany, 1929; Sashalite/England, Photoflash Lamp/USA, 1930).

The growth of photojournalism was advanced by the expansion of the reading public—with the addition of the working class—accompanied by an increased availability of inexpensive newspapers and picture magazines. Also, the public desire to ‘see’ the world— fuelled by the popularity of the movies (and newsreels, in particular) especially during the 1920s—created new demands on print media to legitimize photo- journalism as a professional practice. In addition, the role of photography in education and propaganda, particularly in the Soviet Union, and its use in authoritarian societies, like Hitler Germany, energized photojournalism and strengthened its commitment to the ideals of social or political revolutions while providing increased picture coverage of the respective societies. The rise of worker-photographers in the Soviet Union and Germany during the 1920s also extended the notion of photojournalism to include the contributions of the working class to a photographic surveillance of the social environment. However, in post-1949 China, the use of photographs by the press remained restricted until much later (e.g., the first national photojournalism contest was held in 1981).

Photojournalists of the modern era found increasing numbers of professional outlets with the rise of mass circulation picture magazines, among them: Arbeiter- Illustrierte-Zeitung, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, Vu, Paris Match (France), La Vanguardia (Spain), Picture Post (England), Look, LIFE (USA), Ogonyok and USSR in Construction (USSR), or China Pictorial (China). Although photo agencies had existed since the end of the nineteenth century (e.g., Bain News Service, 1895, Underwood & Underwood, 1901, International News Photos, 1909 all in the USA) and photographers had been employed in considerable numbers by the press since the beginning of the twentieth century, increasing demands for photo- graphic coverage by a rising number of media clients since the 1920s resulted in the establishment of new picture agencies. Photographs became commodities, and photographic agencies with their own staffs and national or international visibility produced and disseminated single images and photo stories. Among these photo agencies were: Mauritius, Weltrundschau and Dephot (Germany), Keystone, Rapho (France), Soyuzfoto, Novosti Picture Agency (Soviet Union), Acme Newspictures, Black Star, Wide-World Photos (USA), Scala (Italy), Nippon-Kobo (Japan) or—after World War II—agencies like Magnum, Viva, Gama, and Sygma (France), Contact Press Images (USA), and—since 1949 in China—the Bureau of Photo- journalism, a government agency, reorganized as the Department of Photojournalism in the New China News Agency in 1952.

Together with traditional news agencies like the Associated Press, USA, or Reuters, England, these agencies became wholesale suppliers of visual material for the world press, working as commercial sources or cooperatives while setting the professional standards of modern-day picture coverage. They were aided by the development of wire transmission (invented in 1905 by Alfred Korn in Munich, Germany) in the early 1920s (London-New York over the Bartlane Cable system). The Associated Press New Photo Service began in 1927 and delivered photographs by train and plane; its Wirephoto network (1935) and the United Press Telephoto service (1936) helped increase the traffic in photographs, but made local editorial staffs less dependent on local photo coverage. At the end of World War II, the (New York) Times Photo service offered a worldwide news photographs service. The first satellite transmission of photographs in the United States occurred in 1960, followed by the launching in 1962 of the Telstar satellite for live transmission of pictures between Europe and the United States. Laserphoto was introduced by the Associated Press (USA) in 1977 and replaced by Photostream in 1991, an innovative transmission system that uses digital technology. The Associated Press (USA) had patented a portable digital image scanner in 1983 for the transmission of photographs from remote locations. Digital cameras appeared in 1988, and digital darkrooms in 1989 (San Francisco Examiner). The Associated Press (USA) began distributing news photographs via the World Wide Web in 1995.

Photo agencies also became depositories of visual representations of public life during most of the twentieth century (the Hulton Deutsch Collection (England) is one of the largest picture libraries in the world with over 15 million images; the Associated Press (USA) maintains an active picture archive with over 500,000 images, accessible over the Internet). The combined organizational network of photo agencies worldwide and their archival holdings constitutes a formidable, if not dominating cultural and commercial force in the process of visual representation. To a significant extent, journalism everywhere relies on the images that photo agencies supply.

By the end of the 1920s photojournalism was firmly established worldwide in the metropolitan press with the hiring of picture editors and the use of staff photographers in the editorial process. Smaller news- papers were considerably slower in creating staff positions for photographers. Over the years, the work of photojournalists has been preserved in the public and private archives of the press around the world. Among the most prolific photojournalists of modern times are Erich Salomon, Alfred Eisenstaedt, and Wolfgang Weber (Germany), Max Alpert, Arkady Shaikhet (Soviet Union), Eugene Smith, Margaret Bourke-White, Weegee, David Douglas Duncan, Mary Ellen Mark, Susan Meiselas (USA), Werner Bischof, Rene Burri (Switzerland), Robert Capa (Hungary), Ihei Kimura (Japan), Wu Yinbo, Zhang Suicheng (China), Shomei Tomatsu (Japan), Peter Magubane (South Africa), Henri Cartier-Bresson, Martine Franck, Gilles Peress (France), Sebastiao Salgado (Brazil), Bert Hardy, Don McCullin (England).

Photojournalism succeeded in making the world a knowable, visual experience and in creating a sense of familiarity with people and places. The presence of photojournalism in the public sphere has a profound effect on the public staging of politics. Photojournalism, by its very nature, generates attention, and because of its impact, raises issues of privacy, sensationalism, and manipulation in a marketplace that thrives on the exploitation of the image. Unlike others, photojournalists—to be effective—must seek the proximity of unfolding events, including the hazards of social unrest, revolution, or war. Consequently, they often risk their lives and sometimes pay the ultimate price in their pursuit of the perfect picture (by 1971, for instance, 25 of 35 non-Vietnamese journalists killed during the Vietnam war were photographers or cameramen).

The practice of photojournalism, beginning in the 1920s, led to an exploration of the documentary style and produced single and multiple images to convey the news. Photographs became a regular staple of news-papers and affected their make-up and design. When photographers thought editorially, the result was a new vocabulary of journalism. But, as Evans (1978/1997, p. 255) suggests, ‘photography is not photo- journalism’; instead, words are needed to supply more information than are conveyed by a photograph. Words help explain, confirm, and reinforce, they also place events in time and space. According to Hicks (1952, p. 5), ‘the basic unit of photojournalism is one picture with words.’ Photojournalism acknowledges the importance of words, either provided in the form of outlines or stories authored by the photographer or journalist-colleagues.

The picture story (or photo essay) constitutes the long form of photojournalism; its visual narrative typically focuses on a single subject and is the outcome of careful planning and extended professional commitment to a project. Ideally, the resulting presentation—not unlike an essay—consists of a flow of images, characterized by a strong opening, a descriptive middle passage, and a decisive ending. Pioneered first in the Soviet Union and Germany during the 1920s, the photo essay became a determining characteristic of LIFE magazine in the United States; it challenged the imagination of photographers and editors to produce a durable visual narrative that could rely on the popularity of story telling to satisfy reader interests. There is also an affinity between photojournalism and photographic fiction; for in- stance, photo-novelas as social reportage constitute a form of visual narrative, which has been explored since the 1970s (as literary photography or photo- graphic writing) by contemporary photographers.

With the advent of television in the 1950s and the demise of the mass circulation picture magazine (particularly in the United States) during the 1960s, photojournalism survives in news magazines and the daily press, in particular, where it continues to help strengthen the visual culture of the late twentieth century (aided by the ease of offset printing which improved the reproduction quality of images). The introduction (since the 1930s) of color positive and negative films (with distinctive processes developed by Agfa, Cibachrome, Kodak, and Polaroid) and their increasing use by the press (since the 1960s), added a new dimension to photojournalism; it enhanced the documentary quality of images and contributed to their visual impact (LIFE magazine published the first color photographs in 1952). Although black-andwhite photographs maintain their abstract, documentary quality (and are used for this purpose in modern advertising), the work of contemporary photojournalism relies almost exclusively on the production and circulation of color photographs.

A distinctively different form of photojournalism emerged with the demise of picture magazines in the United States and the rising popularity of the book as an alternative medium for the dissemination of visual expressions. The book celebrates authorial prerogative and individuality of form and style; it also offers opportunities for exercising creative freedom and extended personal constructions of particular aestheticized visions of the world that favor a humanistic approach to photography and avoid claims of objectivity. The resulting emergence of a new kind of photojournalism at the end of the twentieth century borrows freely from the tradition of street photography and photographers ranging from Robert Frank, William Klein, and Garry Winogrand (USA), to Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau (France), or Josef Koudelka (Czech Republic). The sustained, book-length visual argument can be powerful, but when photojournalism catered more exclusively to a privileged class of bourgeois readers, experts, and connoisseurs of fine photography, it crossed into the realm of art: single news photographs appeared on museum walls and became commodified objects in the commercialized sphere of art collection (especially since the mid-1970s when photographs began to be featured regularly in art galleries).

In an image conscious world photojournalism survives and its tradition is preserved and celebrated by institutions such as the International Center of Photography (USA), or the World Press Photo Foundation, organizations such as the National News Photographers Association (USA) and educational programs, such as the University of Missouri School of Journalism (USA), all of which stand for similar organizations and activities in a number of countries.


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