12 August 2010

Obituary for Photojournalism

I know, I should be done with this topic, but I can't leave it alone because it makes me so sad. Anyway, photojournalism heavyweight Neill Burgess, former head of Magnum and World Press Photo, has called photojournalism's death-date as August 1, 2010.

    We’ve been through major recessions; times when the advertising dollar shrank, massive lay-offs and editorial budgets tightened, but still there was a commitment to the photojournalist and what he or she produced. Even as the millennium dawned I was telling people that there was more photojournalism around now than in the 1950’s and 60’s, it’s just spread amongst more magazines. That was probably true then. Not so now.

He mostly rants, but lays out some evidence, which confirms his case but points, at the same time, to the new direction the profession-formerly-known-as-photojournalism is going. "There are some things which look very like photojournalism, but scratch the surface and you’ll find they were produced with the aid of a grant, were commissioned by an NGO, or that they were a self-financed project, a book extract, or a preview of an exhibition."

Well, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, but maybe we give it a different name. As someone not put out of work by traditional photojournalism's death, I'm less angry than Burgess, and frankly just happy to see documentary photography continue in any form and be financed by any means. One commenter pointed, in fact, to new creator-owned initiatives like VII The Magazine and Latitude Magazine. I think in Burgess's terms, this is not a sign of life, but it is a sign of afterlife.

Anyway, I'll sit shiva with him. And as a gesture of respect for the dead, and for my own enjoyment, I just ordered myself a copy of Great Photographic Essays from Life.

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