Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Awards and the state of Photojournalism. An annual discussion.

A good friend of mine sent me a link to a little controversy brewing over at the Picture of The Year contest in Denmark. It's an interesting problem concerning contests now with the advent of digital photography and the use of Photoshop in the world of photojournalism.

If you follow the link you'll see the photographer relied heavily on photoshop techniques to produce stunning images from his assignment. The degree to which the photographer "toned" his images raised a red flag with a judge and the panel asked to see the original RAW images as a comparison. After seeing the images they pulled the series from the competition.

Personally I agree with the judges for pulling the images. I think the amount of photoshop work done on those images is beautiful but beyond excessive for it's intended use. That use, as I see it, would be reporting to society the "honest documentation" of a given "event". And personally I think that any image for any competition that has to do with "reporting" or in the guise of "photojournalism" should be reproduced unaltered and submitted in RAW format. And since everyone is so hot to have that "full frame" look now I would even argue that cropping should be deemed as unacceptable. If this is the best of the best then the best should not rely on photoshop to make their images look great. IMHO

The way I look at it, and try to practice at my job, is if I have to spend an half hour working an image in photoshop to make it look the way I want it to look then I failed as a photographer. If I cannot get a proper exposure and frame the scene correctly then I'm doing something wrong. Now there are times when I make mistakes, as I see it, and need to make post production corrections like being half stop off or needing to sharpen and cropping is one of those things I try to avoid but is, lets face it, a crutch that all photographers lean on. So I guess I'm guilty of breaking those same standards that I strive for. So I really should not judge something that is so open to interpretation and what in essence comes down to an individual judges opinion.

But what really bugs me now is the use of B&W images in these competitions. I think B&W was left in the rules because back in the day photographers still were using B&W film. I think the rule to allow "B&W" should be changed. In the day it wasn't color film that was then converted to B&W. It was the nature of the beast. IT WAS B&W FILM. Now even this years Pulitzer winner for news I'm pretty sure shot his assignment on a digital camera. The last time I checked, ALL DIGITAL CAMERAS ON THE MARKET SHOOT IN COLOR. Again in my opinion, how is an image originally produced in color then converted to B&W "a truthful representation of whatever happened in front of the camera during exposure". It's not. But rules are slow to change. And until these competitions re-examine their rules and update them for todays working environment they are not rules but guidelines open to interpretation.

SO to answer the question at hand, should the photographer have been disqualified. I have to say no. If B&W is allowed from digital cameras then color enhancements like those done in this case should be allowed. The photographer, in my opinion, followed the letter of the rules and the judges, in this case, followed the spirit of the rules.

A disclaimer,
I have to say friend some twenty years ago when I was a young, impressionable photographer soured me on the whole competition thing. We were members of the Professional Photographers of America. He was upset because a lot of images were being judged and getting help by the way they were titled. You couldn't just call an image "abstract study" or something simple. It had to have a fancy title or it would get hit by the judges. So in protest he went and named all his portrait entries "Dead Fish #__". That really put this whole contest thing in perspective for me.


Greg Pearson 4/22/2009 1:03 PM  

Sounds like somebody doesnt have a full grasp of the idea of documentary photography. Gorgeous looking images...not photojournalism. I love to manipulate images, but I only do so with portraits and illustrations. Looks to me like some basic manipulation would have been sufficient anyway.

Anonymous 4/23/2009 6:30 AM  

Here is the first question: Do any of you PJs consider Gene Smith's work, photojournalism?

Douglas Collier 4/23/2009 10:41 AM  

If you mean W. Eugene Smith, then the answer is yes. Tho he did spend a lot of time in the darkroom. I'm more of a Don McCullin fan personally.

Greg Pearson 4/23/2009 12:33 PM  

yes to Smith...although it looks like his dodging and burning goes a bit over the top sometimes...I like Gordon Parks.

Anonymous 4/23/2009 9:28 PM  

OK, then if you consider Gene Smith a photojournalist, then I would argue that there is a simple truth to an image regardless of its aesthetics. Manipulating for taste, subjective tastes, like salt or spices on foods, doesn't necessarily disguise the meat or the identity of the meat. RAW files exclusively delivered to avoid subterfuge is not necessary. Give the viewers more credit and responsibility and season to taste.They can handle it.SRE

Greg Pearson 4/24/2009 2:22 PM  

Cant say that I necessarily disagree with what you're saying, but in the end, I'd guess about 100% of the photo editors in the PJ industry wouldnt accept those images from me like that.

Douglas Collier 4/24/2009 7:15 PM  

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say any of these guys are not photojournalists. And if you like your steak swimming in A1 Sauce then God bless ya!

Anonymous 4/25/2009 6:11 AM  

Doug and Greg, Scotty here, thanks for entertaining my notions. I just wanted to make a point that the dressing doesn't kill the salad and News media delivers the "House" salad with the dressing on it and of course the ideal would be a good balance between slathered and parched. I think we as a viewing population are quite familiar with aesthetic applications to substance. I can see how this could become a slippery slope and easily become troublesome and possibly deceptive especially since the concept of constitutes "News" has become even more gelatinous. However, I think it's up to your industry to adapt to the demand for more stylistic images, meanwhile holding up the integrity of the substance, not the viewers. I personally think exclusively accepting camera Raw files is a great anchor, but a little Steak Tar-tare for me. Thanks for the great conversation. Sincerely, scott Rex Ely090425

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