“When you raise the camera to your eye you become responsible for contextualizing the history of the person you are photographing.”
– Neeta Satam
The second Indo-China war lasted for almost 20 years and deprived 4 million civilians of their home. The prolonged bloody conflict dominated the media during its course. Yet only a handful could recall the gruesome details. Forty-four years is a long time to commemorate wars, isn’t it? People tend to forget the long-written paragraphs about the Vietnam war. But we do remember the agonized look on Kim Phuc’s face as she runs naked towards the camera.
The photograph titled the ‘Napalm Girl’ by Nick Ut, might have invariably led to the end of the war. Even after forty-four years, her pain-stricken face will always remind the world of the sickening aftereffects of war.
A picture could express a lot more than words— this is the basis of photojournalism. Photojournalism tells us a story. The importance of Photojournalism was fully realized during the Crimean War when the US government directed Roger Fenton to romanticize the war through his photographs. As a result, ‘war photography’ gained immense popularity in the 1900s. During the Second World War, both Germany and America used Photojournalism as a means to ally the world towards either side. Photos from the frontline played a major role in shaping people’s opinion on the war.
Photojournalism soon began evolving into something much more than was expected of it. Apart from war photography, wildlife photojournalism has also been gaining popularity. Photographers like Tim Laman and David Higgins— to name a few— have changed the perception of common people towards the complex ecosystem that they shoot. David Higgins’ documentation of a dead whale being towed away along the UK coast speaks for itself.
With the development of the 35mm Leica camera in 1925, photojournalism became simple. Cameras soon became easier to purchase and before you knew it, The 1950s became the ‘Golden age of Photojournalism’. This period saw the ascent of distinguished photographs like “Migrant Mother” and “The Kiss”.
Photojournalism delivers the truth without any manipulation. It depicts the raw emotion of the subject, which might explain its success in conveying a story. A single picture could summarize an incident in a nutshell. For example, Kevin Carter’s ‘The Struggling Girl’ is a photograph of a vulture eyeing a Sudanese girl on the verge of starvation. This encapsulates the anguish faced by the country in a single shot.
Although photojournalism may seem like the perfect way to encapsulate a story, it did go through a turbulent age when photographers were accused of staging the scene. Edward Keating’s photograph of a young boy holding a gun outside a store in the Middle East sparked controversy after it was proved to be a fabrication. Incidents like these have led people to question the credibility of published photographs.
In this 21st century, news spreads faster through pictures. With a smartphone in every person’s hand, anyone can document current issues happening around them. Spot news journalism relies on the efficiency of a photographer’s timeliness. They capture the despair of the subject at a particular moment. It captures news as it happens, from where it happens. Even though this has developed as an effective means of reporting the news, the method does come with its own set of disadvantages. There are instances, where old photographs with false information were being circulated on social media, to add fuel to the fire. The number of staged pictures being circulated is extremely high. This, however, still doesn’t undermine the importance of Photojournalism in today’s world. Anyone can understand a picture, and that very picture can reach any part of the world.
A photograph has the potential to affect a wider range of audience than the traditional method of journalism. If used ethically, a single photograph can alter history.
“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.”
— Elliott Erwitt
Featured Image by Yasho for MTTN
Written by Aneesha Muthuraj for MTTN