The Future of Photojournalism (Part 1)

‘Vietnam Syndrome’ and Citizen Journalists

“A curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.” – Bresson

Photojournalism is one of the most influential forces in media history, where one image can change the world’s opinion and make us question ourselves as viewers. Pictures can certainly tell a thousand words, though with this in mind why has there been such a downfall to this old and well regarded art form? Gone are the days where everyone in the industry would look up to the Magnum society and the ‘decisive moment’ theory laid out by Henri Cartier Bresson. But why is this? Is it down to new media technologies, our audience changing between passive and active? Or is it down to ‘Vietnam Syndrome’?

It could be a mix of all three, but first – let’s look at the history, focusing on Magnum and how the practise of Photojournalism has changed over time. Magnum was founded in 1947 by four of the legendary photojournalists – Bresson, Capa, Seymour and Rodger, and aimed to show the public what was really going on around the world. Magnum was owned by its members, meaning they had freedom to express their views and opinions in their photography without much regulation. Whilst this was the case, many of their images have received much controversy. Take Capa’s image of the ‘Falling Soldier’ –

The soldier is neither dead or alive – he is dying and it’s all caught on camera. The raw power and emotion captured by Capa was in some cases overlooked and morality was brought into play, some people believed it to be plain wrong. Others however (like myself), believe it to be powerful and inspirational – this is what Magnum was all about.

Things got rocky at the time of the Vietnam War, the first ever conflict to be so widely reported in the media. The public were for the first time able to see the devastation war causes at the time of conflict, not after it had happened. This provided the prime opportunity for Photojournalists to shine, and additionally the perfect scenario to use the ‘decisive moment’ practise. Out of this conflict came some of the most stunning and shocking images in photographic history –

though it also produced the phenomenon of ‘Vietnam Syndrome’. This had nothing to do with the soldier’s mental state after the war, but the public’s. Many people believed the images to be too controversial and shocking, in a way blocking out the events of the war itself. Ever since these images, there has been very little in the way of war photography and it’s all because of this syndrome.

Since then, Photojournalism has evolved and changed in various different ways, and it’s also due to the way culture, technology and society itself shifts. The basic idea behind Photojournalism practise is to display a snapshot of a moment that can tell a story, or more precisely the real story. Though this can only be done if the audience is hooked, and it’s an important factor that is often overlooked, so firstly let’s look at what the audience and society wants. In the modern age, celebrity in some ways rules the news – tabloids and paparazzi lead the way in feeding the audiences requests.

It could be a form of escapism for the public, a release from our everyday lives – or is it what we are forced to digest? If so, have the audience become desensitized to the real, hard hitting stories originally portrayed by photojournalists? As stated earlier targeting your audience correctly is vital to getting your work viewed, though with such questions floating around as the ones just raised, our job as photojournalists has become distinctly harder.

(Continued tomorrow in Part 2!)


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