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Is professional documentary photography dead?

Miguel Moya

New member
I'm the editor of an online magazine of photography, focusing on documentary photography and photojournalism, F8Magazine. You can download it for free on their website: http://www.f8mag.com

One of my personal motivations for editing the magazine is my interest in documentary photography. Because of widespread access to digital photography, many amateur photographers have access to high quality photographic material, and many of them can take photos of higher quality. Every day the market is more saturated with photographers who make reportage.

In the era of digital photography, citizen journalism, YouTube, Flickr and thousands of websites, the figure of a hired documentary photographer feels like a lonely dinosaur in danger of extinction.

I believe that the editors or curators will be professional artists of tomorrow. What do you think about the future of documentary photography? Is there still a place for professionals? can we discover new values in documentary photography through amateur photographers?

What do you think? Would like to share your thoughts on the matter?
 

fahim mohammed

Well-known member
Hi Miguel,

Welcome to OPF.

Could you describe for me what you mean by the terms ' professional ' and ' documentary '.
This, so that we are ' talking ' about the same subject.

Thank you.
 

James Cook

New member
I believe that digital cameras in the hands of just about everyone (cell phones included) that professional reportage is certainly gone down the drain. Eye witnesses are everywhere and magazines have no budgets to send a pro to cover any but the biggest stories. Even then, most of the pros on the scene are shooting on spec for Getty, Corbis or others of the like.

That said, I do believe there's still life for documentary photojournalism. All of those amateurs have no idea how to put together a photo essay that explores a topic and tells a full-fledged story.

To my thinking it comes down to coming up with an idea, then following through with a project that has appeal to a sizable or specific audience. Finally, it requires marketing the story to a publisher willing to pay a fair fee to license the work for a single use or syndication. They do still exist.

Without being confrontational, but for the sake of the discussion, I have to wonder how F8Magazine compensates photographers.
 

Jerome Marot

Well-known member
A simple question appeals a simple answer: yes, it is dead.

Very nice pictures in your webzine, by the way...
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Miguel,

I think rather than dead, it's stressed and will have to evolve with features that make it economically viable. Therefore the challenge for the photography/journalism schools to train graduates for this new reality. Professional training schools often have no ethical filters! They churn out graduates in "Provence Poetry of the 18th Century", Wind Tunnel Engineers or News Photographers without taking responsibility for career placement!

For the dedicated documentary journalist, there are so many competing "content" offerings. These tend to devalue the professional's economic worth and bargaining position.

However education, insight, energy, dedication, an engaging personality, craft and probative vision should allow a few to brand themselves, be known and do well.

Personal values and drive will always allow a few more to breakthrough each year and be saluted!

Asher
 

fahim mohammed

Well-known member
I think rather than dead, it's stressed and will have to evolve with features that make it economically viable. That means rising above the chatter and myriads of folk with limited resources, insight, probative vision or resources.

This is also frightening since likely it will give a great advantage to companies with huge resources and political affiliations. but then, wasn't it always that way?

Asher
I had written something similar, but not submitted the post. I might add that a vast majority
of these ' documentary ' photographers have lost most of their credibility with the majority. For reasons that are well known.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Loss of Credibility of Documentary News Photographers?

I had written something similar, but not submitted the post. I might add that a vast majority
of these ' documentary ' photographers have lost most of their credibility with the majority. For reasons that are well known.
Fahim,

We know of only some of the cases where documentary journalists let us down. Often there's no interest in large regions and having a few reporters spread over continents! Even worse is the lack of attention to local populations by war reporters, except for wars involving Israel. What news do we have from Afghanistan or Iraq or the rebellious areas in China? There are myriads of reporters, but they have tunnel vision!

In all truth, I know of only a few documentary photographers who deserve being lost to the profession, these staged scenes to spice up the news or edited the pictures in Photoshop and even some where there's value in the edits here.

Who are you referring to? Could it be Capa-like photographers whose iconic work might glorify wars that shouldn't be or make heroes of soldiers fighting wars that you consider require acrobatic justification

Yes, know that news photographers are sent in sparse numbers anywhere in the Middle East, except to Jerusalem. As a result, there were just one or two Western reporters spread over the African content including N. Africa. That results in a huge gap between us and these peoples. Certainly, Tanzania, Tunisia, Libya and Syria were pretty well below anyone's interest. Beyond Palestinian Rights and Israeli security and flashes from the Sudan, Beirut and oil producers, the entire African continent and the Middle East is off the radar!

I'd add to this an absence of comprehensive accurate assembly of civilian death and injury in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Only in Gaza was this attempted, albeit with great political partisanship.

But there's also this fellow who many criticize for his work at Ground Zero 9/11, despite his having lung disease from the exposure and not making a profit on his book.

Still, I have great admiration for dedicated documentary photographers who use whatever guise or stratagem required to go beyond the corporate or official barriers and bring us the news. No the profession is not dead, but the young adventurous news photographers are now at increasing risk as they work with less and less support!

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Asher, I have already responded to this.
That's fine, Fahim, I have built in your response to my post as best as I can.

Obviously we need to encourage independent reporters. Not good if they have a good chance of being attacked, raped, robbed or decapitated! Being a reporter is tough. Working in a population that looks on foreigners with suspicion, (and even vile contempt), makes giving everyone fair and just coverage a great personal risk.

So in wars, there's less chance of civilian deaths being documented unless this is part of "news" that the locals want to get out to show their vicitim-hood. One cannot, for example, blame reporters then for not going into parts of Pakistan for an in depth story!

Asher
 

fahim mohammed

Well-known member
That's fine, Fahim, I have built in your response to my post as best as I can.

Obviously we need to encourage independent reporters. Not good if they have a good chance of being attacked, raped, robbed or decapitated! Being a reporter is tough. Working in a population that looks on foreigners with suspicion, (and even vile contempt), makes giving everyone fair and just coverage a great personal risk.

So in wars, there's less chance of civilian deaths being documented unless this is part of "news" that the locals want to get out to show their vicitim-hood. One cannot, for example, blame reporters then for not going into parts of Pakistan for an in depth story!

Asher
No Asher you have not.

Good night.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
No Asher you have not.
Fahim,

I can merely try to reach out to receive your views and grasp it as best as I can. Well, I tried to understand your intent. Obviously I failed.

I can only really accurately express my own current understandings which, of course, are limited by virtue of the fact that much reporting is incomplete, often agenda-based, controlled anyway and likely contains false information mixed in with the facts. That, in itself is bad enough! But in addition, my own interpretation of events has to go through so many cultural and historical filters to make sense. So just dealing with my own view of reporting is already challenging to the limit!

Back to the initial poster's question and inference. I do not despair of the situation since there are so many people willing to step in the place of the reporters who don't do the job and the truth does get reported eventually. Likewise, as cynical or reluctant as we might be as consumers of news, eventually we'll get it too!

Asher
 

Jerome Marot

Well-known member
Well, well, well. Discuss what you want, but the answer to the question is contained in the first message (the one from Miguel Moya) and it is "yes". Apparently, I am the only one to see it, but I'll let you search a little longer.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Well, well, well. Discuss what you want, but the answer to the question is contained in the first message (the one from Miguel Moya) and it is "yes". Apparently, I am the only one to see it, but I'll let you search a little longer.
Jerome,

I don't think that's true, although it does have "the ring" of truth to it! Although many or most trained news/documentary photographers graduating in the coming years will not make it, others will climb their way up in news organizations and earn a good living. So the profession has shrunk, changed but not died.

Likely, new outlets will be spawned on the internet and ones with a financial underpinning could evolve and then support new generations of documentary and news photographers. As the net expands, so does the thirst for content.

I see no end to opportunity and growth. It, however is not our parents world and maybe not ours either. New approaches are only now being tested. We see this in how the music industry has been turned up on its head and the very engine of funding artists threatened with destruction. We do not know how it will end. We can expect continued evolution of new models for not only music distribution but also for the work product of the documentary or news photographer.

Asher
 

Jerome Marot

Well-known member
Asher, I said that the answer is in the first post and it is.

"Professional" means that the person is doing something for pay. That he or she earns his or her keep with that profession. Anything else is "amateur": not doing something for pay.

Now, what do we have in the first post of this thread? Someone advertising for a webzine about documentary photography. That webzine is free to download, I don't see many advertisements, there does not appear to be any business plan or prospects of future profits. Yet the photographs are world class.

Hence, world class documentary photographers are reduced to take pictures for a webzine with not business plan. Hence, they have nobody who would pay them more. So the first post proves that there is no paying market for documentary photography or these photographers would go somewhere else. If there is no paying market, there cannot be "professionals" for that market.
 

Miguel Moya

New member
Fahim, James, Jerome, Asher... Hi everyone

Excuse my English. For me, a professional photographer is not one who receives money for their photos. Is a person who also "live" photography. A person who is able to get up every Sunday at 4 am for weeks to do a reportage about the garbage collectors of Brooklyn, as a personal project without being assured of economic benefit. A person who reviewing your photos to improve their technique, someone who does not buy the latest model of camera to feel professional. A person familiar with the work of great photographers who are not Cappa and have been members of the Magnum agency.

In conclusion, I refer to attitude and passion. In this case professional is not synonymous of money.

For documentary I refer to, as spectators, to know a story as if we had lived. For that, the photographer should know to tell stories, he must dominate the reportage. Otherwise they are just tourist photos, very boring to look!

Today anyone can take pictures but ... And the attitude? Everyone can buy paintings and canvas, but only with that, Are we the new Picasso or Dali? We tend to see only material things and forget the feelings, what can transmit a photo.

I suppose that as in any profession, the people are forced to be better professionals to make money. We should reinvent ourselves as the silent film actors had to learn to speak on stage.

Jerome, there does not appear to be any business plan or prospects of future profits, , but it exist. And if you see the history behind some photographers who have participated in the magazine, they get a lot of money with your photos. F8Magazine must compensate them in some way for display their photos in the magazine...
 

Jerome Marot

Well-known member
Miguel,
please note that I wrote that the photographs in your magazine are world class.

Professional: participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs <a professional golfer> (from Merriam-Webster)

The overuse of "professional" to positively describe people or equipment is one of my pet hates. Sorry.
 

James Cook

New member
Miguel,
please note that I wrote that the photographs in your magazine are world class.

Professional: participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs <a professional golfer> (from Merriam-Webster)

The overuse of "professional" to positively describe people or equipment is one of my pet hates. Sorry.
I've got to agree. A professional does it as his or her PROFESSION. It's their job, their livelihood. An amateur is someone who does not depend on it for their living.

Neither term refers to the quality of the work or to the passion behind it. Some pros are lousy compared to some amateurs.
 
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