(playful music) - There is a real power in photography that no one can deny. It’s the burden of truth, of seeing is believing. That mere words, as beautiful as you can string them together, still doesn’t have the power to translate what a war, famine, or even joy might be. And there’s no question that a photograph can do that. - Having a good photo is a lot like having a good lead on a story.
You’re going to grab them by the throat immediately, or you’re not. Pictures always help you tell the story more powerfully and more immediately. - Every photographer wants to make a powerful image. Who doesn’t? But the trick is resisting that urge to manufacture things, and whether it’s in-camera or afterwards make a great image with a great story and good content, and you actually then don’t need to do much.
Photography is manipulation in some way. But for photojournalism the rules are much different. - A journalist is really an observer. You’re there to observe, you’re there to collect. You’re not a player in the scene. You cannot say “Do that again.” You cannot say “Go stand over there.” You cannot say “Go help that child.” But you have the credibility and the honesty that is absolutely necessary for you to have to be seen as a credible source.
(soft piano music) - The switch to digital from the darkroom experience: it was monumental. It was a tidal wave. It hit newsrooms hard, and we were completely caught off-guard, I think, by the power of these new tools. And, you know, yes, we’ve been manipulating imagery with tricks in the darkroom forever.
Guiding people’s eyes. But it was really kind of a pain in the ass, honestly, because it took a lot of work. Like, even to spot something out. And if I got it wrong I may have to go make a whole other print. And sometimes that was just too much time. And now it was like within seconds you could manipulate an image so far down the rabbit hole that we hadn’t even thought possible in some sense. But we knew, we knew, that we would have to answer the question of: how much of this tool we were actually going to utilize in the work that we were doing, specifically within photojournalism.
- You know, the journalist wants to go out and bring back what he or she saw. It’s not necessarily what the camera saw, because the camera’s dumb. The camera wants to record everything in 18% grey, and when it does that it’s very happy and it thinks it’s doing a wonderful job. But when you come back, you say, “No. “This part was really dark, “and this was really light, “and my eyes were blinded by it.” So that’s where you want to have the final picture have that same tonal quality.
So that tonal manipulation has always taken place. Ansel Adams was the greatest tonal manipulator in the history of tonal manipulators. Had more chemicals than you or I would ever need. Photoshop makes those same manipulations much easier, much faster, uh... Probably much more beautiful than they’ve ever been. And that’s a great powerful thing, but the idea of rendering your vision in the photograph has always been a prime concern to the photographer.
When Sebastiao Salgado goes to a weary and sees the hundreds of bodies climbing a hill and there’s that combination of light and shadow that is so amazingly effective when you just look at it as an object of art, almost, and yet you’re seeing conditions and you’re seeing people’s lives illustrated in a way that you didn’t know it could be illustrated, because it’s so stunningly beautiful. He’s not lying to you when he makes that image so powerful and compelling.
He’s not adding something that wasn’t there. He’s just communicating that image the way his mind saw it rather than the flat way, the dumb way, the camera saw it. - I come from a very traditional background where you don’t manipulate the film, you don’t manipulate your subjects. You are really supposed to be the observer. And I judge a lot of photo contests. I look at a lot of images. Sometimes 100,000 images in one contest.
And I can tell you, it’s usually just a handful of images that haven’t been manipulated. There’s this desire around the world to make journalism beautiful. If you start manipulating one thing, say you just start darkening the sky, or increasing the saturation. How do we know... How do we know what your limits are? Did you add objects, did you take objects out? What did you do to get that image? And for example, even at National Geographic, they will look at your whole take.
So they want to know how you got to that image, not the actual finished image, but everything that you worked up to into that moment. And actually you can create beautiful images simply by doing the hard work of getting up early and spending time on a story so that you get these authentic moments that don’t need to be manufactured. - I look at most pictures and my first instinct is that’s not real. (chuckles) Right? That’s photoshopped. One because I’m a journalist, and I always think everything isn’t true until it’s fully reported, but there are people that are coming into this world whose worldview of photography is HDR-esque imagery, hyper-real.
And when you take an image, it’s not hyper-real generally as it sits. You do have to go through processes to get it, you know, filter and saturation and cleaning and doing all of these things. So I always try and push my students who are obviously younger than I am. I still have that same thing where I’m only gonna show you three things. I know this is very powerful, and I go so far in the classroom to have students sign an ethical form that they will not manipulate a news picture in any way, shape, or form, because it is so easy and it is so, kind of, it’s out there.
And I think the only way that news organizations and that photography photojournalism is gonna retain its whatever power it has left to be truthful and honest, is to be less filtered. - You know, ten years ago when someone obviously manipulated an image to have a certain effect we might have been fooled. You know, when a newspaper put a picture of Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding together skating on ice to our knowledge there was only one way to get a picture like that, and that’s it actually happened.
That didn’t actually happen! Nancy didn’t skate next to Tanya. Some newspaper editor somewhere, or photo editor, decided to put them together because wow, that’s the image that everybody wanted to see. Well that wouldn’t, you know, when News Week and Time came out with pictures of OJ Simpson on the cover and one had his face much darker and sinister looking than the other, we wouldn’t have had the sophistication to say, “Well what’d they do in photoshop to do that?” We’re looking for that kind of thing. We’re looking for authenticity because we’re a little bit more skeptical of the power of digital manipulation than we were not that long ago.
- Well I think the democratization of photography is a beautiful thing. I mean, it gives us a lot more multitude of viewpoints. It’s better for the world. But here’s the thing that I think needs to happen: I think we need to educate everyday people about it. I just had a really unusual situation where one of my photos was taken, manipulated, and used for a huge campaign called Bring Back Our Girls, about the Nigerian girls who were kidnapped. Now, this was an innocent Nigerian guy who was frustrated with the world not paying attention to this, so he found a powerful image of mine, added a teardrop to the girl’s face, and went viral around the world.
Everybody from famous musicians to the BBC were using this image to illustrate a campaign. So here’s the problem... Not only is it a problem for the girls that I photographed who never consented to this, but it’s a problem because I think the audience thinks it’s okay because it’s for a good cause. And you can manipulate photos, and you can take photos and do whatever you want especially when it’s for a good cause. But that, I think you can see that there’s just, we’ve got a lot of education that needs to happen.
You know, it is easier and easier to do things in post-processing and make a beautiful image, but it’s not honest. And I really think that, go out there, get up before sunrise, get to know your subjects, spend time on them. I mean, a year on one story. And that’s how you really create powerful imagery. And unless you’re an artist and doing everything in Photoshop, that’s a totally different thing I’m talking about, but with photojournalism I really think that you just have to go out there and do that hard work.
That’s what it’s all about.
- David Blatner
- Anne Marie Concepción
- John Curley
- Richard Koci Hernandez
- Katrin Eismann
- Nigel French
- Von Glitschka
- Jan Kabili
- Ben Long
- Deke McClelland
- Justin Seeley
- Ami Vitale
- James Williamson