Wick Communications

Every picture tells a story

In Photography on May 30, 2013 at 4:34 pm

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I was shocked to learn the Chicago Sun-Times had laid off the 28 full-time staffers who made up the photo staff at one of the country’s most well-known dailies. Management says freelancers and reporters will pick up the slack.

I can’t let that pass without saying a couple things, so here goes.

I’m sure there will still be good photography in the Sun-Times. Editors will get it from the wires and talented freelancers in Chicago and beyond. Some reporters are pretty good with cameras. We are long accustomed in this business to making do. And there is a feeling in the business and society at large that photography is simple. Everyone has a camera phone. Point, click, post. It’s literally child’s play. Everyone’s doing it. People will post 300 million photos to Facebook today and millions of them will be pretty good. So who needs a pro?

I’m glad you asked.

A good newspaper photographer is a journalist. She is seeks images and returns with photos that tell the story accurately. She isn’t trying to exploit a scene for effect. She wants to represent and reflect the story at hand. She can be trusted to understand the ethics of journalism and won’t stretch the limits by altering reality for purely aesthetic purposes.

A good newspaper photographer is an ambassador. Taking photos is an intimate event. Photographers invade the personal space of people, often during difficult times. They are trusted to shoot kids and crime victims and others who require kid gloves. I’ve never known a newspaper photographer who hasn’t taken a photo for someone gratis, just because he loves sharing his work and because it brings goodwill the next time he shows up at a similar event. More of your readers know your photographer than with any editor back at the office. …

A good newspaper photographer is an artist. Many if not most of our best layouts have been driven by the photography. Every photographer I’ve ever known has had constructive layout ideas that bring stories to life. Because they are artists, some photographers have earned a reputation for being difficult. Perfectionists are like that. Really great work requires artistry, not simply craftsmen who can point and shoot.

A good newspaper photographer is a human being first. Think of the most evocative photos of the 20th century, from My Lai to Selma, from that VJ Day kiss in Times Square to a tearful Michael Jordan clutching the NBA championship trophy. Behind every shot is a trained news photographer who has acted not only as the eyes of his organization, but as the heart and soul as well.

When we pretend a professional photographer is as disposable as a cardboard vacation camera, we are lying only to ourselves.

Clay

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