Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes

Continuing on from Phonar’s interview with Fred Ritchin over Bending The Frame, this week had Phonar listening to an interview between Professor Fred Ritchin (previous picture editor at New York Times) and Stephen Mayes (head of VII photo agency). In my previous blog post I referred to Fred Ritchin as a digital migrant and suggested this could be a reason for his seeming reluctance to newer methods of photojournalism. In contrast Stephen Mayes is also what could be considered as a digital migrant however he takes a different stance and prefers to embrace and speculate over the potential of new technology in photojournalism. In this interview it appeared as though they had polarised views on the concept of photojournalism and this dynamic allowed both participants to bring out points for either argument allowing the listener to have a balanced, comprehensive view.

Fred Ritchin’s view is that photojournalism was and perhaps should remain as this iconographic series of front page images which pose as an entry point for the viewer and stand as a rallying point which the population can collectively engage with. He argues there is a diminishing sense that the media is reporting content in the public interest and a reluctance from the population to pay for this information and as a result, conventional media is imploding. In response to this issue Ritchin states that there is a need for a new for a new type of photographer: one that will produce visual content but also deal with the contextualisation behind it. This visual journalist should pursue the idea of becoming a proactive photographer: a more extensive role which encompasses the ideology that a photographer should produce work to inspire social change rather than react to the ‘bright lights’ and ‘loud noises’ of unfolding events.  There is complexity in media today as the demise of the traditional gatekeepers and the rise of the citizen journalist has changed both the quality and the quantity of information, now made readily available by the internet. This saturation has seen a loss in the prevailing view and defining image which traditionally accompanied a story. One of the differences between the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan was that in the latter, there were no iconic images. This was partially because Obama didn’t want them used as propaganda but also because the introduction of editing software has lessened credibility of the image; people simply wouldn’t take what they saw as truthful.  Although the possibilities of new media are seemingly wonderful, the situation can be comparable to that of the automobile which although revolutionary, brought with it the consequence of climate change.

Stephen Mayes however introduces the idea of liberation; photojournalism and documentary photography have previously been bound to the form of the photoessay by commerce. Now there has been a ‘transliberation’ where the practical commercial restraints oppose the possibility of invention in relation to how news is gathered, contextualised and distributed. The conventional form of narrative in the photoessay although effective in some cases, is only one tool out of the many on offer as a result of the most recent paradigm shift. The front page as one of these tools was a distinctive form of control, risky in the nature that it would make countless exclusions to centre around one focal idea. Perhaps we no longer need an entry point into media as we are now provided with a constant rolling stream of journalism, liberated from the constructive package of a linear narrative. Despite the fast pace of content online it is still easy to search and follow developments as the web page has an permanent but faceless existence as opposed to the printed cover image which is bound in the form of physical, disintegrative materials. The nature of online platforms also give people more opportunity take instantaneous action through the process of liking, sharing, commenting, volunteering and donating; can the notion of collective viewing be seen in the online space? The concept of storytelling is undergoing a process of evolution, as Ritchin denoted the image is changing to become metaphorical as opposed to evidential. Photography is transforming from it’s evidential and factual origins to become a medium that is profound and metaphoric.

It is clear that photojournalism has become an ambiguous term, stretched by the explorations of practitioners striving to create social change and fuelled by the advance of technology. However unless a sense of responsibility and the notion of producing quality is maintained there is a possibility that photojournalism will become saturated by unmoderated, citizen generated content. The concept of photography as a metaphorical medium is generally not new however in specific relation to photojournalism it is not an approach usually taken. By using emotive, conceptual photography it could be possible to evoke a response that perhaps surpasses that of an evidential image. Ritchin stated that the purpose of photography was to be useful in the world and it appears as though the paradigm shift has facilitated a world where technology can advance the capacity of photojournalism to new horizons. However there are risks accompanying this vision; with the automobile came climate so what will the world of evolutionary, collaborative and interactive media bring?

To see my own Storify notes as a initial response to the interview – follow the link below

To hear the original interview – follow the link below


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