Photojournalism Vs. Documentary

Antonin Kratochvil with Michael Persson: Provides an interesting commentary about the different role of photojournalism and documentary photography.

“Today, photojournalism is different from what it once was. Speed is what counts. Instantaneous reports about world events, stock markets, even sports have become the norm. And news photography keeps pace. Whereas Documentary photographers reveal the infinite number of situations, actions and results over a period of time. In short, they reveal life. Life isn’t a moment. It isn’t a single situation, (like photojournalism suggests) since one situation is followed by another and another.”

But has the importance of speed resulted in a lack of image quality and respect for the photographic image?

“Photojournalism—in its instant shot and transmission—doesn’t show “life.” It neither has the time to understand it nor the space to display its complexity. The pictures we see in our newspapers show frozen instants taken out of context and put on a stage of the media’s making, then sold as truth.” The problem of this reportage is that: “Viewers can be left with a biased view, abandoned to make up their minds based on incomplete evidence.”

“Through documentary work, the photographer has a chance to show the interwoven layers of life, the facets of daily existence, and the unfettered emotions of the people who come under the camera’s gaze. When finally presented, viewers are encouraged to use their intelligence and personal experiences, even their skepticism, to judge. By eliciting associations and metaphors in the viewer, an image has the potential to stimulate all senses.”

“There are photographers who create exhibitions and books from their photojournalistic images, but what is achieved is only sensationalism. One extreme moment after another is cobbled together and made to look as though it captures “life.”

There are many photography books in the library for example such as ‘the times in pictures’ or ‘a year in photographs’ or ‘most important images of all time’. Depicting big news events but they only represent a snapshot and fail to consider the meaning, context, or consequence surrounding them.

Having traveled to many of the world’s disaster areas and having seen extreme tragedy, I can attest that these moments do happen. But around them there is more to see and more that must be understood. There is more than the angry mob: There is the “why” and the “how” behind their actions. There is more than the flood of refugees: There is what they leave behind. There is more than the funeral of a martyr: There is the space they leave empty in their family’s life.”

“Because of time constraints the photojournalist doesn’t often capture these more subtle but essential images. The documentary photographer does. Photojournalists look to add meaning or message to their pictures by employing contrasts and juxtaposition. In actuality, these are time and space savers. Juxtaposition implies an intersection where extremes or opposites meet. Contrast conjures up black and white. But what sits in the between—the gray, the similar, the normal? Documentary photography offers witness to these less obvious aspects of life.”

“The journalist takes what the camera lens captures, while the documentary photographer makes the images as a form of storytelling, seeking to elevate understanding about what the camera’s eye is recording.Documentary photographers walk in the wake of this instantaneous parade of visual information. They gather and create images that can look soft, speak loud, and transform the split second into an everlasting glimpse at the truth.”

Accessed on March 20th 2014.


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