Saturday, December 7, 2013


Photography is an appropriative act. One takes a photograph. When you press the button, you acquire possession of an object you did not have before, and to which you have no particular rights.

A photojournalist, no less than any other photographer, appropriates. A photojournalist, according to a somewhat labored argument, is taking pictures which reveal Truth and for this reason must remain separate. The photojournalist, in order to avoid disturbing, altering, the Truth, must not be jumping in to assist, must not be paying people to pose, must take care not alter the situation in front of the camera. This is particularly disturbing when the Truth is evidently about human suffering, about disaster, about death.

Of course this is to ignore the bulk of photojournalism, which is mostly "here is the parade", "these two teams are playing a game", "this is the mayor, giving a speech filled with lies" and so on. Let us set this aside, and focus on those scenes of poverty, disaster, suffering.

The photojournalist tries to record unmodified, undisturbed, Truth. Often, the goal is explicitly to generate change. By showing the suffering, the disaster, the journalist seeks to cause the viewer's response: This must change, this must never happen again, this will not stand. Whether or not the goal includes generating change, the goal is always to tell the story: that this happened, that these people lived, suffered, died.

There is a straightforward bargain here. The photojournalist appropriates, takes. The photojournalist remains separate, lending no aid, no succor (this is largely a fiction, but set that aside as well, it is a popular fiction). The photojournalist does these basically unpleasant things so that the Truth may be told, as it was, pristine. That is, in return the photojournalist will tell the Truth, will seek to generate the greater Change, or will at any rate tell the world that this injustice exists, that those suffering suffered. The story will be told, to whatever effect that telling produces.

If you, as a photographer, are not in a position to tell that story to anyone, then you have no business with the first half of the bargain. If you can take an item off the shelf, but cannot pay for it then get out of the store.

This is fauxtojournalism. People with no power to tell the story, to speak Truth widely, have no business wrapping themselves in the mantle of photojournalism. If you're taking pictures of homeless people, but carefully maintaining photojournalistic distance because you, you know, ethics, and then simply dumping the result into your flickr account then, let me be clear:

Fuck You

You're appropriating. You're not helping. You're doing all of the taking side of the equation, and none of the giving side. You're not shopping, you're just shoplifting.

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