7 Lies About Photojournalists
article by Alex Garcia
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Do we despise P.R.? Nope. When long-time Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Daniel Barenboim gave a series of farewell concerts at the Chicago Symphony Center, public relations professionals at the time worked with the Tribune to provide photographic access all around the center, offering views to readers that expressed the significance of his tenure. For photojournalists, it’s a lot about access. (Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune)
1. We Are Camera Experts
“Hey, what kind of camera should I buy?” I don’t know. Most of us are glad to be shooting pictures, not selling cameras. “How many megapixels is that?” I don’t know, it’s about quality – size doesn’t matter. “Can you tell me why my camera makes this strange sound?” I don’t know, why don’t you check with my camera mechanic? “You’re a photographer, you’re supposed to know about cameras.” I don’t know, it hasn’t stopped me so far. I know just enough about my own camera…
2. We Enjoy Showing People at Their Worst
With the downbeat news that often leads papers and websites, I could see how people might think that to be true. But when I’m decompressing at the end of the day, I’m like a lot of human beings – I’d rather not have shared in the worst moment of a stranger’s life. If their situation has been determined by our editors to be news, then our job requires us to convey the emotional depth of it, with sensitivity. Pictures can have a cathartic, galvanizing or informative effect for both the subject and the viewer. If a picture has that effect, then there is a redeeming aspect to it. But to think we enjoy or welcome the process would be a mistake.
3. We Are Pulitzer-Hungry.
I have heard that accusation while on an assignment, to call my motivations into question. My gut level response is often, “As if,” like “As if a Pulitzer Prize winning picture could even be made in this hum-drum situation” or “As if anyone knows the rhyme or reason behind what wins.” The pictures that win Pulitzers are indeed meritorious work, but there is a lot of meritorious work that gets entered. Like most photographers, I’m too busy finding interesting pictures in visually challenging situations to even think about the rarefied air of the Pulitzer Committee. Many photojournalists feel they have the same chance of winning a Nobel Prize as they do a Pulitzer.
4. We Always Carry Cameras
“Hey, you’re a photographer. Where’s your camera?” I didn’t know whether to get upset or to develop a complex about it. This would usually happen after some social gathering where it suddenly occurred to everyone that professional photography would have been a good idea. Now, people have camera phones, so I don’t get it as much. Phew. Before starting this blog, I wouldn’t practice my ABC’s (Always Bring Camera) because after awhile you get tired of seeing the world through rectangles. After 40 hours a week, you just want to go home and give it a rest. We are not all relentless picture-takers. I’m fortunate that my children don’t go un-photographed, in a photographic equivalent of “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” because of my picture-taking fatigue. My wife is also a photographer, so we tag team it.
5. We Despise P.R.
You’ll hear the words “flak” said with the emphasis given on the “k” for effect, but many stories wouldn’t happen without their cooperation. To get access to the property owned by institutions, companies, or even governmental bodies, etc., you often need the intercession of public relations professionals. With many former journalists in the business, the work of the photojournalist is often made easier because there are people in public relations who understand our needs. Of course, there is danger that stories could be manipulated to their institutional benefit, since public relations reps give you access only to those people and situations that are in their interest to be photographed. But since access and intimacy are the keys to interesting pictures, our interests are more aligned than we might like to admit. Moreover, I’m frequently helped by public relations professionals willing to hold my flash for a portrait, allowing themselves to become what some in the business call a “V.A.L.” (Voice-Activated Light stand).
6. We Shove and Push
Some of the most irritating photographers are not the ones who shove and push their way into situations. To be sure, there are those. They are portrayed in Hollywood films. But the most aggravating ones in a crowd of photographers are the ones who silently slip past you, around or below, and then silently disappear after the news events are over with incredible images. They don’t fight, engage, or confront because they realize that it’s not about them – it’s about the picture. Time spent arguing with anyone is a waste of time and creative energy. Rights and respect are left to those who have issues with them. These unobtrusive, highly effective photographers are silent and deadly.
7. We Use “Potato Mashers”
Ok, it’s a pet peeve. But please, Hollywood, would you please stop showing photojournalists using these off-camera handle mount flash units? Not a single photojournalist I know has ever used one on assignment. Ever. I mean, ever. You’re getting better, but I still see them in scenes portraying news photographers. If you need an industry consultant, give me a call.