Media disruption (1): The primacy of the screen and mobile


What are the key features of the media economy in 2015? And how do those features effect the work of visual storytellers? Two years on from the publication of Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism, I want to update – in a series of articles – some of the central findings of that … Continued

Photojournalism, advocacy and change


The purpose of photojournalism and documentary photography, and how that purpose is discussed, remains a contentious area. A large part of that contention flows directly from the way the purpose is framed and debated. This was evident recently in the panel discussion on “The Photographer as Activist” at the World Press Photo Awards Days in … Continued

Why does manipulation matter?


Does the manipulation of news and documentary photographs matter, and how should we talk about this issue? The discussion about the number of images disqualified for manipulation in the 2015 World Press Photo contest has been intense, and the debate will be ongoing. But I’ve now left the Secretary’s seat for this year and have returned … Continued

Changing the conversation about photography


The conversation about what photography is has often been frustrating…but it maybe slowly changing with a focus on the photographic process rather than its products.

George Rodger’s lessons for contemporary photojournalism


Looking back at the career of George Rodger, one of the four founders of Magnum Photos, allows us to understand the past and present challenges of photojournalism differently. The ‘golden age’ may have been very short and a poor model for the present.

The purpose of photography


It’s been quiet in these parts again…June was spent working on a video project for the West End Refugee Service in Newcastle, and July was spent doing research on refugee images in the Australian media at the University of Queensland. Now that I’m back I’ve been catching up on reading, and the “Coming of Age” … Continued

Mythical power: Understanding photojournalism in the Vietnam War


Philip Jones Griffiths’ Vietnam Inc. is a masterpiece, a classic work of photojournalism in the Vietnam War. But it is often falsely claimed that the photographs in this book changed the course of world history. The latest iteration of this claim was a Magnum Photos tweet: Philip Jones Griffiths’ “Vietnam Inc.” was crucial in the … Continued

Hipstamatic angst, Instagram anxiety: time to move the conversation forward


It’s back – another round of high octane commentary on the supposedly nefarious influence of Hipstamatic and Instagram on the world of photography. We’ve had Jean-Francois Leroy of Visa Pour L’Image deride these apps as “all a gimmick…pure laziness“. We’ve read Kate Bevan in The Guardian detail how she loves manipulating her own digital images, … Continued

The gun and the camera: an historical relationship


The link between the camera and gun is evident in a shared metaphor, but is historically closer than we might imagine. During the 2004 battle for Fallujah in Iraq, NBC cameraman Kevin Sites filmed a marine shooting an insurgent in a mosque. Jon Kudelka’s cartoon (published in The Australian) references this event and points to … Continued

The importance of criticism


It has been quiet in these parts while I’ve been teaching in the US, but now that I’m back in the UK and in freelance mode, I’m looking forward to again writing here more regularly, trying to articulate the contexts of photography, multimedia and politics. Having been preoccupied with off-line responsibilities I’ve also had a … Continued

Photojournalism and change: voices of humility


How should we think about the contribution photojournalism might make to the task of social change? Reflecting on the Kony2012 phenomenon I concluded with observations about the difficulty of specifying how political change comes about and our potential contribution to it. Thinking more about this, I recalled videos in which two of the best photographers … Continued

The myth of compassion fatigue


Before we can construct a meaningful account that traces possible links between visual representation, knowledge and action, we need to dispense with some conventional wisdoms that purport to explain how photographs work. One of the largest obstacles to be removed is the ‘compassion fatigue’ thesis…

Thinking Images v.24: Lu Guang’s activist photography


What is the power of photography? In the abstract, that is an impossible question to answer. There are many general claims about photography being able to ‘change the world’, but when it comes to evidence for such arguments, we know surprisingly little about how photographs actually work. There are clearly moments in which images can induce … Continued

The elusive enemy: Looking back at the “war on terror’s” visual culture


Last week The Guardian published an extraordinary report on how Al Qaeda is using aid to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of displaced Somalis in East Africa’s zone of food insecurity. Jamal Osman’s investigation – including a compelling eleven minute video – reveals how aid workers and medical units, including American and British citizens, are … Continued

Agencies as publishers: a new approach to photojournalism


Should some photo agencies become publishers and broadcasters? Last week I concluded the post on the issue’s surrounding Magnum’s archive of Libyan Secret Service pictures with the view that agencies miss an opportunity when they don’t provide the most comprehensive context of their stories in conjunction with their images. The challenges of the media economy mean … Continued

Thinking Images v.23: Gaddafi’s death


The extensive pictorial coverage of Gaddafi’s death yesterday takes us back to the question I posed, also in relation to Libya, at the end of August – when should we see the dead? There I wrote that generally the mainstream media operates in terms the idea of “taste and decency” thereby sanitising the coverage of … Continued

The Libyan Secret Service Archive photographs: the importance of context


  Last week I asked Magnum Photos some questions about the Libyan Secret Service Archive Pictures on their site. I had been thinking about these images after conversations with Olivier Laurent of the British Journal of Photography about general issues arising from the use of found photographs. I recalled a Guardian report from earlier in the year reporting … Continued

The problem with the dramatic staging of photojournalism: what is the real issue?


Photojournalism Behind the Scenes [ITA-ENG subs] from Ruben Salvadori on Vimeo. Ruben Salvadori’s video – “an auto-critical photo essay” – demonstrates clearly that when we see a conflict, what we see is the outcome of “conflict image production.” It’s like those still photographs which reveal photographers at work – Paul Lowe’s 1992 photograph of the Somalia … Continued

September 11, 2001: Imaging the real, struggling for meaning


  As the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 approaches images of the event are being recycled and recirculated. Many of them are familiar, and the meaning of the event now seems fixed. But anniversaries are part of the process of fixing memory, and as they are repeated they can obscure the uncertainty that prevailed at … Continued

Stephen Mayes and Tim Hetherington on war and sexuality


Sleeping Soldiers_single screen (2009) from Tim Hetherington on Vimeo. I’m publishing here a short article written earlier this year by Stephen Mayes and Tim Hetherington that explores the themes of aggression, masculinity, sex and war, and the way they informed Tim’s work. Entitled “The Theatre of War, or ‘La Petite Mort’,” the article was a … Continued

Thinking Images v.21: Seeing the dead


When should we see the dead? In this photograph of a Libyan rebel surveying a possible massacre site we are confronted with an unusually graphic portrayal of war dead. (This picture ran in The Guardian print edition on 29 August (pp. 14-15), appeared online, along with a similar image from the same photographer that can … Continued

Imaging famine: How critique can help


What is the point of critique, and how can it help produce better visual stories? According to Jonathan Jones (writing in the Guardian on 22 July) all the sophisticated critiques of photojournalism are pointless when it comes to picturing famine: It seems shocking that commentators…wasted their breath on the ethics of a photograph instead of … Continued

Imaging famine: A debate


Last week’s post on ‘Famine iconography as a sign of failure‘ drew a very critical response from @foto8 on Twitter. I’ve again used Storify to collect the comments and offer a response to address the issues. Be sure to click on ‘Read More’ to see the whole stream. Further comments on this debate are welcome. … Continued

Thinking Images v.20: Famine iconography as a sign of failure


The homogenisation of ‘Africa’ – the rendering of the continent into one form. The anthropomorphisation of ‘Africa’ – the representation of the continent as one person. The infantilisation of ‘Africa’ – the image of the continent as a child. The impoverishment of ‘Africa’ – the construction of the continent as a desperate, poor, passive victim. … Continued

Thinking Images v.19: Do local photographers have a distinctive eye?


Do local photographers offer a distinctive perspective on their worlds? That question was prompted by reading Patrick Witty’s interesting account of a photography workshop held in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq earlier this month. The workshop was organized by Metrography, the first Iraqi photo agency, and sponsored by Washington-based IREX International. Witty writes that the workshop was “the brainchild of Stephanie Sinclair, Sebastian Meyer … Continued

Debating ‘Who’s afraid of home?’, and the importance of narrative


Last week’s post on photojournalism’s ‘foreign fixation’ and the relative neglect of the big domestic stories prompted a debate in both the post comments and on Twitter, especially from Marcus Bleasdale. Feedback is one of the great virtue’s of social media, and I always get a lot from people’s responses. Because I think this is a really … Continued

Who’s afraid of home? Photojournalism’s foreign fixation


The US presidential election began this week. Although polling day is still 18 months away, yesterdays Republican candidates’ debate in New Hampshire marks the start of the race. As ever, the economy, jobs, healthcare and education will be key issues, with more people worried about these than war. In Britain, along with immigration and multiculturalism, the picture … Continued

The Back Catalogue (3): Images of atrocity, conflict and war


Welcome to the third in “The Back Catalogue” series of posts… I’ve been actively writing online for nearly three years now, and one of the challenges of the blog format is how to keep old posts with content that is potentially still relevant from slipping off the radar. And because this site combines my research with … Continued

The new media landscape (3): community, transactions and value


  The disruptive power of the internet has produced a new ecology of information. As outlined in the first post of this series, this is the inescapable big picture for anyone engaged in creative practice. This new ecology of information incorporates some hard realities for those of us seeking to support creative practice. In the … Continued

The new media landscape (2): the importance of community


  The disruptive power of the internet has made ‘community’ an essential concept in the new media landscape. A community is a group of people who share the similar interests, concerns or pursuits. They form around common purposes or practices. As argued in the first post of this series, the internet ‘disintermediates’ because it collapses … Continued

Thinking Images v.18: Ratko Mladic and the limits of visibility


    This photograph of former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic after his arrest was (as Tom Keenan observed on Facebook) too long in coming but nevertheless still satisfying. In many ways its hard to equate the pathetic visage on display here with the barbaric deeds Mladic’s forces committed in the Bosnian War between 1992-95, with … Continued

The new media landscape (1): contours of change


Change in the media landscape is constant. Everyone involved in the production of creative content – photographers, journalists, writers, and musicians, as well as those who deal in those products – knows that nothing is as it was. Too much of the current debate about how creative practitioners can cope with these upheavals proceeds without … Continued

Thinking Images v.17: The starving child as symbolic marker


Contemporary news photographs are chosen less for their descriptive function and more for their capacity to provide symbolic markers to familiar interpretations and conventional narratives. Although news images can illustrate the story they accompany, it is often the case that the photograph published with a story does not depict the specifics of that story. This … Continued

Thinking Images v.16: Osama Bin-Laden and the pictorial staging of politics


The killing of Osama Bin-Laden is another of those issues in which politics is located in or around the image. However, the debate about the rights or wrongs of releasing the post-mortem photograph obscures the fact that any such image will inevitably have been staged. I’ve read the many arguments calling for the release of … Continued

Thinking Images v.15: Syria, social media and photojournalism


Both the scale of the protests in Syria, and the violence of the regime’s response, is growing. Yet photojournalism is able to offer little about this vital story. While we have seen powerful coverage of events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and even Yemen, there seem to be few if any photojournalists – either freelance or associated … Continued

Post-photography: Tim Hetherington’s living legacy


Tributes to Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros have been widespread and heartfelt after the devastating news of their untimely deaths in Libya. The injuries to Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown were also shocking, and hopefully they will recover fully. Photojournalism Links has curated the numerous memorials, including many fascinating videos in which Tim and … Continued

Crowd funding photojournalism: how is it going?


Crowd funding is growing as a means to support creative projects. Back in January I discussed the theory and practice of crowd funding through a critique of Larry Towell’s ‘Crisis in Afghanistan’ project, followed by an update on my experience as a contributor. Here I want to provide a review of how crowd funding is … Continued

The Back Catalogue (2): Photojournalism in the new media economy


Welcome to the second in “The Back Catalogue” series of posts… I’ve been actively writing online for nearly three years now, and one of the challenges of the blog format is how to keep old posts with content that is potentially still relevant from slipping off the radar. And because this site combines my research with … Continued

Paying for photojournalism: a review of the New York Times ‘pay wall’


Newspapers in the US and UK continue to struggle with growing debt, declining circulation and falling advertising revenue. In the search for additional sources of revenue, new schemes for paid content are being implemented. (For an excellent overview of the issues, listen to WNYC’s On the Media podcast from January 28). After nearly two years planning, … Continued

Missing multimedia: where are the stories from Egypt, Japan, Libya?


World Press Photo announced the shortlist for its inaugural multimedia award this week, with three narrative stories and three interactive projects. Coming after six weeks of monumental global events, it got me thinking: where are the multimedia stories from the revolution in Egypt, the disaster in Japan and the conflict in Libya? Recalling Paul Conroy’s March … Continued

Thinking Images v.13: Target Libya


More than 100 newspaper front pages are running Goran Tomasevic’s photographs of the airstrikes on Libya. These scans have been made and circulated today by Thomson Reuters, and demonstrate how particular images attract the eye of picture editors around the world. His most featured photograph shows “a bomb from an allied aircraft explod[ing] among vehicles … Continued

Covering Japan’s disaster: A visual journalist’s reflections


Dan Chung spent four days covering the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Based in Beijing as the Guardian’s videojournalist, Dan runs the DSLR Newshooter blog and is the video tutor for the MA in International Multimedia Journalism I contribute to. Upon returning to Beijing on Thursday Dan came into class to give an immediate, first-hand account of his … Continued

The Back Catalogue (1): Representing ‘Africa’


Welcome to “The Back Catalogue,” the first in an occasional series of themed posts… I’ve been actively writing online for nearly three years now, and one of the challenges of the blog format is how to keep old posts with content that is potentially still relevant from slipping off the radar. And because this site combines … Continued

Thinking Images v.11: Kevin Frayer’s aerial view of Afghanistan


Different perspectives on the landscape of war in Afghanistan do exist. Two weeks ago The Frame (the photo blog of Californian newspaper The Sacramento Bee) published “Helmand Province from above,” nineteen black and white images from Kevin Frayer. Kevin Frayer is a Canadian photojournalist currently working as the Associated Press Chief Photographer for South Asia. … Continued

Thinking Images v.10: Jodi Bieber’s Afghan girl portrait in context


Jodi Bieber has won the overall 2011 World Press Photo award for her portrait of Bibi Aisha, the young Afghan women disfigured in an act of punishment (above left). Bieber outlines her thoughts on making the photograph in a brief interview here. Any image selected from over 100,000 entries produced by 5,847 photographers is going to draw … Continued

Learning from Larry, part two: what crowd funding looks like from the donor’s perspective


My postman brought an envelope from Larry Towell this week. Sent from Canada, it contained the 6×4 inch photograph (above) offered to those who pledged US$25 towards Larry’s “Crisis in Afghanistan” project. Personally captioned “International Committee of the Red Cross, Kabul, Afghanistan 2010” it was also personally signed. In my original post reviewing Larry’s Kickstarter-funded … Continued

Learning from Larry: what crowd funding photojournalism means and how to do it better


Larry Towell is one of the most accomplished contemporary photojournalists. Two weeks ago I became a backer of his “Crisis in Afghanistan” project, pledging $25 through Kickstarter. Today was the deadline for Larry to attract backers, and with 143 supporters contributing $14,007, the project exceeded its target and is up and running. I became a … Continued

Thinking Images v.8: Haiti’s eternal present


Thinking Images – an occasional series on some of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt… Caption: Orich Florestal (left), 24 and Rosemond Altidon, 22, stand on the edge of their partially destroyed apartment of Port-au-Prince January 9, 2011. Photo: Allison Shelley/Reuters. One year ago this week a massive earthquake struck Haiti killing 230,000 people. Media … Continued

Grants for new visual stories: who provides them?


The photography world is full of awards, grants and competitions. Many of these reward work already done. But where do you go if you want funding for a new project? Who will fund a visual story you are planning but have not yet commenced? On a new grants resources page I have collected a range … Continued

The aesthetics of the war in Afghanistan


  The US-led war in Afghanistan is one of the longest running conflicts in America’s history. After more than nine years, the US and its allies have been fighting in Afghanistan longer than Soviet Union was by the time of its 1989 withdrawal. The war in Afghanistan has also surpassed the formal duration of the … Continued

Thinking images v.4: Edmund Clark’s Guantánamo project


Thinking Images – an occasional series on a small selection of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt… More documentary photographs in the mainstream press – Guardian Weekend has surprised us again! This week they have published work from a major project, Edmund Clark’s “Guantánamo: If the light goes out.” Although Guardian Weekend has the all-important … Continued

Has concerned photography a future? Photojournalism, humanitarianism, responsibility


For a long time I have argued that ‘photojournalism’ – that broad swathe of photographic practice that tells visual stories about the world, and which can include documentary, editorial, news or social photography – has a particular responsibility and a particular opportunity to both represent the world better and make better worlds imaginable. It is … Continued

Thinking Images v.3: Laura Pannack and Gideon Mendel


Thinking Images – an occasional series on a small selection of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt… Here in the UK, last Saturday’s Guardian Weekend magazine contained something a little bit unusual – two photo essays that many would regard as excellent examples of contemporary photojournalism and/or documentary photography (see my comments on how the … Continued

Making documentary possible: How the Internet leads to new funding opportunities


Finding the money to enable new photographic work is one of the most pressing issues practitioners currently face. Editorial paymasters have been in decline for a very long time, forcing those who want to pursue challenging and time-consuming projects to seek other means of support. Now the Internet’s disruption of the media economy has quelled … Continued

Stereotypes that move: The iconography of famine


As appropriations of suffering, photographs of famine victims are affective rather than simply illustrative. They are designed to appeal emotionally to viewers and connect them with subjects in a particular way rather than just offer a description of some person or place. The message is that someone is suffering, and that we should be sympathetic … Continued

Thinking Images v.1: Chile, Africa and British students


Thinking Images – an occasional series on a small selection of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt… You would have to a cold-hearted person not to have been moved in some way at some time by the rescue of the Chilean miners. But there are always other dimensions to such stories. During the … Continued

Dead or alive? The state of photojournalism


Photography has always been associated with death. The French painter Paul Delaroche is supposed to have proclaimed, “From today, painting is dead” after he saw his first daguerreotype. Whatever the provenance of that quote, miniature portrait painting was replaced by new photographic technologies, even though their long exposure times meant, as Geoffrey Batchen has written, … Continued

Famine photographs and the need for careful critique


The photographic reporting of famine, especially in ‘Africa’, continues to replicate stereotypes. Malnourished children, either pictured alone in passive poses or with their mothers at hand, continue to be the obvious subjects of our gaze. What should drive our concern about this persistent portrayal? This morning I came across an example that demonstrates how criticism … Continued

‘Living in the Shadows’ wins ‘Best of the Best’ award at SABEW


Earlier this month I was delighted to announce that “Living in the Shadows,” the multimedia story on China’s internal migrants I produced for Sharron Lovell, was named among the winners in The Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual Best in Business Journalism competition. Now we have heard it has gone one better… The Global … Continued

‘Crossfire’ censored: the power of documentary photography


If we wanted a clear pointer to the political power of documentary photography, and a stark lesson in how pictures that pose difficult questions can provoke authorities, we need look no further than the vital work of Shahidul Alam and the Drik Gallery in Bangladesh. Photo credit: Shahidul Alam/Drik Shahidul’s new exhibition “Crossfire” examines extra … Continued

Visualising ‘Africa’: moving beyond ‘positive versus negative’ photographs


A disaster. A lone child. Barefoot. In a barren landscape. The apparent absence of social structures. This photograph recycles all the main elements in the dominant representation of ‘Africa’. As James Ferguson writes in his important book Global Shadows, “for all that has changed, ‘Africa’ continues to be described through a series of lacks and … Continued

‘Living in the Shadows’ wins multimedia journalism award


I hope you will excuse this tiny bit of trumpet blowing, but I was excited to hear this morning that “Living in the Shadows,” the multimedia story on China’s internal migrants I produced for Sharron Lovell, has won an award in the United States. It was named as one of the winners in The Society … Continued

Ed Kashi to speak in London, 8-16 March


Here is something not to be missed – in early March Ed Kashi will be in London for a busy schedule of talks about photojournalism, activism and his project on the Niger Delta . Between Monday 8 March and Tuesday 16 March Ed will be speaking at a number of venues across town – all … Continued

Revolutions in the media economy (5): the pay wall folly for photographers


This has been a momentous year for media. In my previous four posts on the revolutions in the media economy, I have used the present uncertainty to take a fresh look at the past many now view nostalgically. This critical view demonstrated that newspapers have always been commercial enterprises rather than altruistic associations, they were … Continued

Photographic manipulation: the new World Press Photo rule


World Press Photo has included a new clause about the manipulation of imagery in their entry rules for 2010. This clause says: The content of the image must not be altered. Only retouching which conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed. The jury is the ultimate arbiter of these standards and may … Continued

Revolutions in the media economy (3): photojournalism’s futures


How do the revolutions in the media economy (detailed in the first and second post of this series) affect photojournalism? Given both the crisis in the distribution of information and the new opportunities for the structure of information, what futures are there for photojournalism? This assumes ‘photojournalism’ is an accepted category of photographic practice.  It … Continued

Photographing Gaza: AP, Franklin and being political


Ten days on from learning that the Associated Press had forced Stuart Franklin to withdraw his essay about Gaza from part of the Noorderlicht exhibtion, questions and concerns remain about this affair. The photographic press has failed to unpack the whole story, although the British Journal of Photography ran an updated account on 9 September. … Continued

Photographing Gaza: more questions in the case of AP vs. Stuart Franklin


The controversy surrounding the forced withdrawal of Stuart Franklin’s essay in the Noorderlicht Photofestival exhibition of Palestinian photojournalism has received some coverage in both Photo District News and the British Journal of Photography. Those reports don’t delve very deep into this issue. As such, there remain a number of outstanding questions that, given the importance … Continued

Photographing Gaza: do pictures speak of politics?


Do photographs speak? Do they have an intrinsic politics? Or do they rely on the text that accompanies them for political meaning? An unfolding controversy about the photojournalism of Palestinian photographers contracted to western picture agencies is broaching these questions. As I’ve written here, although many claimed that Israel’s media controls meant few pictures of … Continued

How photographs make Darfur mean something


The relationship between photographs and text in the construction of political understanding is often complex and frequently unclear. Although news photographs regularly present themselves as windows illustrating the world, the articles, captions and headlines with which they are associated can bind them into meanings at odds with both their pictorial content and the accompanying textual … Continued

Photographing the Catastrophe of Gaza, part 2


The Observer Magazine has a cover story today (“A Life in Ruins“) about the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. It details the on-going suffering, and is illustrated with Antonio Olmos’s portraits of Gazans living in their destroyed houses. His photograph of Shifa Salman (below) is a double page spread on the inside, with … Continued

Photographing the Catastrophe of Gaza


Israel’s three-week war against Gaza was a devastating assault. Retaliating to Hamas rocket attacks, Israel’s military campaign caused the death of some 1,300 Palestinians and the destruction of thousands of buildings. The story of this operation dominated the world’s media in January 2009, yet many felt that the reality of the conflict had been hidden … Continued

Tiananmen’s other images


For most of us ‘Tiananmen’ conjures up the image of the lone citizen standing in front of the tank. This iconic picture as been the sign around which memory of the massacre twenty years ago coalesces.  However, in today’s Guardian novelist Ma Jian writes in honour of the thousands who were killed. It is a … Continued

Embedded in Afghanistan


Embedding photojournalists with combat units was one of the military’s greatest victories in the Iraq war. Narrowing their focus in time and space to the unit they were with produced images putting brave soldiers front and center, with both context and victims out of range. Now, with the Obama administration’s “Af-Pak” strategy being questioned, we … Continued

Afghanistan: Limits of the Photographic Landscape


The visualization of the war against the Taliban has stuck closely to the conventional understanding of the conflict in Afghanistan. With few exceptions, photojournalism has focused on the military struggles of international forces as they combat an ‘elusive’ enemy. Starting with stories like Ron Haviv’s Road to Kabul, and evident in the contributions to the … Continued

War images at work


Photojournalism’s representation of war is often standardized, familiar, even clichéd. Regardless of the time or place it can seem like we have seen it before, regularly and repeatedly. But if we always approach the problem from the same vantage point – asking how the event is represented – we run the risk of missing vital … Continued

Newspaper as television


The media landscape is changing radically. When The Guardian (rightly) wins a Broadcast News award for its July 2008 video on Zimbabwe’s rigged election – which was posted on the newspaper’s web site before being shown on BBC television – then we have proof that the barriers between print, on-line and television are being blurred … Continued