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Chapter 4 (part 4)

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years, 1 month ago

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Photojournalism is a particular form of journalism (the collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast) that creates images in order to tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, and in some cases to video used in broadcast journalism. Photojournalism is distinguished from other close branches of photography (such as documentary photography, street photography or celebrity photography) by the qualities of:


Timeliness — the images have meaning in the context of a published chronological record of events.

Objectivity — the situation implied by the images is a fair and accurate representation of the events they depict.

Narrative — the images combine with other news elements, to inform and give insight to the viewer or reader.


Photojournalism,once 'married' with realism,press photography embraced a notion of reportage that required the effacement of authorship.

Realism in art permitted the depiction of the ordinary life,as opposed to great scenes from history,mythology and literature.

The realists sought to render everyday characters, situations, dilemmas, and events; all in an "accurate" (or realistic) manner.




Developments in technology brought to the failure of illustrated journalism. Daily newspapers began to use the same pictures of Illustrated papers but at a lower cost due to developments in photographic technology. It became difficult for Illustrated newspapers to compete with daily press.

The only way to survive was to join art or try to imitate competitors. Illustrated newspapers chose to imitate their opponents but they failed.


















Causes and consequences


The new regime of realism embodied in photography is not a culmination of a process of development. A whole new regime fundamentally recast the role of illustration. After the revolution, photography, explained in the terms of realist ideology, became understood as the zenith in a long drive toward true fidelity, toward the capture of the real, unmediated by human artistry. This implied the simultaneous demotion of sketches and drawings, which in the twentieth century no longer get credited with authenticity and become instead mere art. The condition for the rise of photojournalism, then, was the rejection of the regime of illustrated journalism, with its obsolescent (and perhaps too republican) collusion in the explicit artistry of storytelling.


Why the disappearance of the regime of illustrated news? Its fate was not simply determined technologically, by the superiority of photographic reproduction. The historical evidence cannot support that interpretation. To a certain extent, the failure of illustrated journalism was brought about by changes in media ecology. It became increasingly difficult for the illustrated weeklies to compete with the daily press. In the 1890s, papers such as Pulitzer’s World and Hearst’s Journal and the Chicago Daily News carried illustrations like those in Leslie’s but on a daily basis and more cheaply. Newspapers effectively absorbed the franchise of the illustrated weeklies. The scale of newspaper manufacturing made it simpler and more efficient in the 1890s for a daily to print a photo than to create an engraving from it, justifying the investment in photographic technology.


The larger cultural environment also realigned the real with the technical, obscuring the centrality of human mediation. We reject the notion that photographs were simply inevitable because they were more truthful than engraved or woodcut illustrations. Nevertheless, along with new ideas about the unconscious and about the possibility that invisible physical forces could be “seen” and measured by machinery, the rise of photo-as-realism did interfere with the ability of Harper’s and Leslie’s to proclaim the fidelity of their sketches. Illustrated journalism had a choice. It could adhere to art, or it could imitate its photographic competitors. Adhering to art had come to mean divorcing art from the notion of the real, and illustrated journalism since its founding had married artistry to authenticity. Trapped in this contradiction, the illustrated papers imitated their more powerful competitors and eventually failed.


What consequences flow from the loss of the regime of illustrated news? As a result of its marriage with realism, press photography embraced a notion of reportage that required the effacement of authorship. If photographers simply operate the machinery revealing reality, they cannot be held accountable for what the camera exposes. Unlike artists and authors, who hold responsibility for their vision of the world, photojournalists are witnesses and bystanders to events ostensibly beyond their control. Thus the realist regime effectively removed any clear lines of responsibility, hiding news work in what has been called the fog of documentary force.


Realism in art welcomed into the canon of imagery the depiction of ordinary life, as opposed to great scenes from history, mythology, and literature — a move that preceded the shift we observed in the illustrated papers. In ordinary parlance, the real, of course, is what exists no matter what folks think of it. This obdurate sense of realism springs from naturalizing conceptions of its rock-hard substantiality — as in Gustave Courbet’s Stonebreakers — as well as from its origins as the incursion of the exotic other, the “ordinary” (read: the lower classes) ruled inadmissible into the canon of greatness for centuries but thereby rendered fixed and immutable. Journalistic realism, at the receiving end, projects an audience that can neither blame journalists nor take effective action in the public sphere. Thus the regime of photojournalism contributes to a sense of powerlessness and fatalism in the face of intractable social problems (Barnhurst, 1994). Certainly a kind of visual intelligence disappears when readers forget about the authored artistry of pictures and succumb to what philosophers call naive realism.


A more important loss was the disappearance of an implied model of citizenship. The new regime divides the reader or viewer from the world in ways normatively distinct from those of the old regime. Journalism driven by narrative carried along in its wake the reader, who anticipated sequence, emplotment, and resolution. Realist press photography trades away temporal narrative in exchange for other things, such as immediacy and emotional impact. Photojournalism is exciting and startling, but by doing more it may, in fact, do less to bring readers into the storytelling of news. Illustrated journalism projected the comforting belief that pictures can amount to a form of travel, annihilating time and space, and offered vistas of great occurrences and personages. This removed a form of social distance even while reinforcing the notion of greatness. Those illustrations of Garfield’s autopsy and embalming brought him close to the reader, but also reinforced the President’s body as a symbol of state. The viewer became an insider elevated to the citizen’s vantage point. Seeing the President in ordinary moments of emotion obliterates both social distance and the civic posture, while calling for raw sentiment: He is not a hero but a friend. The camaraderie that such candid photographs imply is false, however; we can feel his pain but cannot touch him or ask him to touch us. The republican ethos of citizenship is thus lost.

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