Fred Ritchin – Bending The Frame

One of my main references for my symposium is Fred Ritchin’s Bending The Frame, this current title examines and encompasses many of the aspects that I aim to explore and my notes from reading this book will reflect that. In this blog post I identify the main points that I relate to and am prepared to elaborate on in my own symposium.

Introduction

Ritchin introduces by asking a number of questions of the reader regarding what we want from the media revolution, what should be changed and what should be expected from the photojournalist in modern times. He suggests a new form of photographer, a ‘metaphotographer’ who would be responsible for sorting and contexualising images. Ritchin then moves on to talk about the substance of the digital image quoting Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there”, accompanying this with his own speculation that photographs don’t indicate ‘what is’ anymore they depict what ‘might be’. However Ritchin addresses the capability of digital photography to liberate the photographer to create other forms of imagery which would be explored in the text.

Evaluation:

The ideas in this introduction are relative to the ideas explored by David Campbell on power, narrative and responsibility in his interview for Phonar. Campbell stressed the idea that an image is stronger with context and not only this but we as individuals need context to construct a comprehensive view of the world around us. I am particularly interested in the quote from Gertrude Stein questioning the substance and nature of the digital image, I would consider using this quotation in my paper however I don’t feel I will be delving too much into the topic of the content and nature of the digital image itself as this could be enough to fill another research paper. I have to keep in mind that although this quotation is highly relevant in the context of this book; my paper can’t be as developed as a whole book, it has to critically examine a very selective portion of subject matter to avoid becoming vague and descriptive.

Chapter One

The ability of the photograph was to communicate viscerally when words were not enough and to provoke a feeling; this feeling when published became collective. However now liberated from the constraints of mainstream media and increasingly challenged to find an income from their work photographers have transitioned to either photograph the desired result or drawing out their process and completing long term projects rather than working for publications. In comparison to this, amateur photographers or even members of the public have discovered that they can produce and share work that is similar to the standard of mainstream media. The nature of documentary photography has changed, the practise of photography has moved away from a recording process and transformed to become an expression of stance, much like writing. However does this new stance suit reportage? Typically the photographer has to distance themselves from the situation as a personal stance become less authentic. In the new world of media the influx of content from non-professionals has been apparent with the creation of networked devices, in addition to this the subjectivity of the citizen can be easier to relate to. It has been noted by Ritchin that the conventional ‘top down’ structure of media is evolving into more of a conversational system with the traditional boundaries between producers and consumers being distorted. With technology becoming ever more useful and easier to use there is no apparent need to study photography and become a master of the craft.

In addition to rise of the citizen journalist there has been a transition from paper to screen which has posed it’s own challenges to photojournalists. With publications under threat from Internet blogs it is apparent that photography itself could change to suit the new environment however we still see the same format of photo with caption, suggesting that we as consumers of the information are more comfortable with the current aesthetic. With the status of photojournalism in it’s current state of uncertainty there are also other questionable aspects such as what constitutes a professional photographer. This question as Ritchin details was asked at a New York forum and the answers revolved around the trustability of the professional in their ability to construct a complex narrative with imagery. However the introduction of Photoshop has been an influential factor in this concept of trust; following various cases of manipulation in the media it seems as though the raw content from the citizen is considered authentic as they have no commercial gain. It was also addressed that perhaps the member of the public would be more inclined to assist at a scene of crisis whereas the professional would be expected to come away with imagery. The overarching theme is that photojournalism is freedom of speech; as this freedom is now being shared by the citizen, there is a need to address the content, quality and nature of this information. As Joan Foncuberta demonstrated with his series ‘Fauna’ (Joan Foncuberta 2006) exhibited in the Science Museum, information can easily be passed off as fact if the tone and contextual environment is considered to be authentic and reliable. Ritchin along with many contemporary practitioners have also identified the two responsibilities of the image created, first for the participant and second for the reader. The image must have a purpose and be useful however it also needs to take responsibility for the message it is giving; a subject must feel they have been represented effectively and the reader must draw the right interpretation.

“New Journalism” is a term defined by Tom Wolfe in 1972 referenced the hybridised strategies writers such as Truman Capote used to speculate on the thoughts of the victims. This was an instance where the photograph moved away from the fact and could be considered as a metaphorical tool in the conveyance of a certain theme or idea. However with the rise of interest in photography and news as potential career and the easy capacity for an Internet user to publish content online, mainstream media has transformed slightly into producing and sharing content that is consumer friendly. In the aim of generating a profit in the increasingly flooded market, publications have started publishing content that the readers want to read rather than the content that perhaps is in the public interest. Ritchin also focused on the idea that there is a genre of ‘peace photography’ that has not yet been explored fully which would perhaps benefit the world more than the scenes of war. As Shahidul Alam (Internet Archive 2013)  identified in his work, photography is a tool to make social change therefore photojournalists could use imagery to promote and construct peace instead of reacting to war. Photojournalists now encounter limitations of appropriate platforms on which to distribute their work and have become subject to criticism over seeming to take passive stance in narrating newsworthy stories.

Evaluation:

Perhaps the key point in this chapter for me is the term “New Journalism” which Ritchin chose to include to reference the changing methodology and nature of both the photograph and writing.I definitely want to include this concept in my paper, perhaps introducing the quote as Ritchin did would be a good sentence opener and contextualise the audience with the information I will be discussing. It also references Ritchin’s view that new terminology is needed within the genre of photojournalism, this idea is an element I can explore further on in the paragraph and address in my conclusion. Ultimately my aim is to examine the changing genre of photojournalism however to make it topical and contextual I need to identify these contemporary issues as a result of my exploration and situate them in the medium of photography and also in society.

This change from the photograph as fact to the image as a metaphor is a concept that is essential to address in order to examine that way in which photojournalism has changed. The purpose of the news photograph has always been to inform the reader/viewer of current events therefore it is assumed that the visual content is factual. However the photograph, like writing, can be subject to adaptation and manipulation, not through the form of editing but in the actual composure and framing. Like taking a quote out of context and changing the meaning, if you assume a certain mindset and take a photograph to reflect that ideology then the value of the image completely changes. Typically the journalist/photojournalist assumes an objective stance when documenting and explaining a situation; however when an emotive, subjective approach is used, it not only changes the nature of the image but the dynamic of photojournalism itself.

When citizen journalism is introduced into this changing dynamic of photojournalism, the parameters and capability of the genre changes completely. Although freedom of speech is an essential element in a democratic society it raises the issues of quality and sustainability. With the embracement of the Internet as a platform to communicate news, we as a society have been subjected to the ‘internet hoax’. In extension to this, by including the Internet in our process of forming relationships we have created the term ‘catfish’. When the citizen has the control and power to publish content without any verification we open photojournalism up to essentially two options: the first is a collaborative system which aims to represent and narrate every event truthfully and effectively, however the second is a complete destruction of the truth with individuals exploiting the authority of the image.

Chapter Two

Ritchin addresses the shift in photography from analogue to digital; characterising this change as a paradigm shift. In addition to this he notes that the photographer’s business model has also needed to undergo transformations to adapt to this new form of practise, referencing Marshall McLuhan when explaining that practitioners may not be aware as this change, just as fish aren’t aware of water. Ritchin goes on to the address the incorporation of the Internet and the platforms accompanying it, as a result our society revolves around data with approximately 3,500 images uploaded every second to Facebook and over 4 billion hours of YouTube content watched every month; these statistics he has taken directly from YouTube and Facebook. There have been speculations that the excess of information available has desensitised the users to violence therefore the techniques of journalism need to extend and innovate to encompass this changing reception. A new medium of multimedia is emerging with audio-visual content however this has the danger of destabilising the photographer as the author through the nature of collaboration. There have also been controversial moves by photo organisations such as The Chicago Sun Times who made all their staff photographers redundant and supplied their journalists with iPhones as the networked device was deemed to be a suitable tool to produce professional level imagery in society today. With the instability of the Internet many photographers are seeking alternative methods in the output for their work such as gallery installations where they can have complete control over their work and how it was perceived.

Ritchin moves on to reference the body of work by Raymond Depardon which foreshadowed and  also links to the emerging blog culture. In reference to the previous chapter Ritchin discusses the idea of New Journalism as fiction, these new empathetic images need to have a separate classification to the factual evidential images some photographers such as Peress continue to produce. The role of the archive has become increasingly prominent in the evolutionary world; the largest current archive to be found is actually social media which accounts for a large portion of imagery and moving image. Conventional media as it stands is being threatened by social media and some are considering that it may not be the best publishing venue in the new age of photojournalism. The role of the photographer has been redefined therefore the role of the publisher must change too.

Evaluation:

When reading this chapter the first action I took was the define the title of the chapter ‘A Dialectical Journalism’ so I could be familiar with the subject matter. Dialectical according to my chosen source (Dictionary.com 2014) means the relation to discussion of logical ideas and opinions. Moving forward I can add another term to my vocabulary which I could possibly use in my essay or discussions surrounding it; in any case I have identified that this chapter is about the narration of events in a logical discussion. Ritchin particularly references the Internet as having a role in the current world of photojournalism as both a distributor of news but also an archive of information. It is worth noting that terms such as ‘user’, ‘content’ and ‘data’ are all words associated with the Internet that have been introduced and adapted to suit the digital age.

It is evident that the Internet has had a big role in the changing dynamic of photojournalism and this is a concept I need to address with specific visual and contextual examples. The Chicago Sun Times case is a topical and thought provoking example and is definitely something I want to touch on whether briefly or in more detail in my paper. The new age of photojournalism has raised many questions over the role of the photographer, the role of the publisher, and also the tools used by both. Perhaps the Internet is a more effective tool for the publisher to distribute information and the networked device a more effective tool for the photographer to produce content? These ideas have also been explored by Charlie Beckett  (Beckett: 2008) and he examines the apparent demise of conventional media in more depth so I will that text to supplement my ideas on this area and perhaps expand on this more in my paper.

Chapter Three

As previously identified in his other title After Photography (Ritchin: 2008 CHECK CITE) explores the prevalence of image manipulation in the current photo society. He notes that post production transformation of the image is more commonly seen in the digital culture particularly in the form of the selfie or self portrait. The physical print has more gravitas than the digital image as it always has a physical form, the digital image is entirely made up of code. Ritchin introduces the concept that as photography is breaking away from the evidential status then the terminology describing it also needs to change, he asks “how can photographic complexity be amplified to deal with an increasingly complicated world”. The German philosopher Martin Buber developed the theory of two meanings behind photographs, I-Thou which is the emotional connection between beings and I-It where the other is viewed only as a category. Ritchin suggested that most of the previous journalistic imagery is of the I-It, subjective nature.

Visual journalism itself has changed and expanded to include photo, video, digital imaging, hypermedia, geo-positioning, augmented reality and simulations. In addition to this social media has demonstrated that digital platforms can help to develop the community and share information. Ritchin gave an example to represent a new form of photojournalism using a digital platform, the feature called SnowFall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek created by The New York Times. This is effectively a news story that was adapted to function in a digital environment, the user scrolls down the page and follows the story with the aid of imagery, text, moving image and sound. This new multimedia approach suggests that documentarians should start collaborating with other professionals such as conceptual artists to produce news content in a manner that is fresh and engaging in order to deal with the never-ending 24 hour news cycle.

There is a public disengagement with imagery of war, Ritchin suggests this is because of continuing visual cliches meant to aesthetically please the viewer. Ritchin introduces The Base Track Project as an example for an original approach to documenting the war process through imagery with photographers following a troop of Marines. The interesting element with this project is that an iPhone was the tool for producing imagery and in addition to this the networked capacity allowed for the families to stay in content with the soldiers. The project was created out of frustration in relation to mainstream media therefore it used social media as a basis for the operations and distribution. An alternative approach was taken by Tim Hetherington who produced the installation piece Sleeping Soldiers which used videography and sound combined with images of sleeping soldiers and videos of battle scenes. Another example of using different techniques is the New York Times feature Faces of the Dead which is a series of data visualisations with each main image comprised of smaller images, all depicting US soldiers who have been killed.

It appears that the smartphone has a prominent role in society with practitioners such as Benjamin Lowy and Damon Winters using a phone and the application Hipstamatic to produce their images which has been greeted with both criticism and positivity. Jean Francois Leroy stated that “as long as you don’t have control over the image, I don’t believe it has any value” (Ritchin: 2014: 68). However Magnum’s Christopher Anderson counteracts with the opposing view that an app speaks to a new audience and perhaps candid photography is now outdated. Perhaps an approach such as The New York Times video platform Watching Syria’s War is needed more often which relies on citizen contributions however it is edited and constructed by professionals. Collaborative media with parameters and limitations, maintained by those trained in constructing an effective and informed narrative could be the future.

Evaluation:

To begin with in this chapter I have identified that the theory discussed by Martin Buber links to and perhaps references Roland Barthes with his studium and punctum terminology. This photographic theory is interesting and definitely informs the genre of photojournalism therefore I plan to extend and research this matter further by reading Camera Lucida by Barthes and looking into Martin Buber’s work more carefully. If not for symposium the ideologies of these professionals would perhaps support the development for my final major project and in extension my practise when leaving university. This chapter has also introduced me to a wealth of case studies and examples of practitioners that support points and concepts that I believe should be included in my research paper. The feature SnowFall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a prominent example that I feel I definitely need to address in my paper. This multimedia technology is an example of the new photojournalism that has been facilitated by the shift from analogue to digital. The combination of images, sound and moving image creates an immersion effect and this technique has proven to be effective when creating a narrative pieces such as PinePoint (National Film Board of Canada 2014). Having analysed this piece of text I am definitely considering having this case study as a visual example for my research paper as it would represent and inform the listener/reader on the subject matter I am discussing. In addition to this the Faces of The Dead and Watching Syria’s War, also done by the New York Times as these are all examples of the new concepts in photojournalism.

Another relevant concept in this chapter is the prominence of the smartphone as an image maker and distributer in the current environment of photojournalism. I believe that this is a key concept to address however I will get the information more from Stephen Mayes on this aspect because this is the subject area he focuses on. However the case studies that Fred Ritchin addresses are extremely relevant and applicable therefore I plan to use The Base Track Project and the images by Benjamin Lowy and Damon Winter and specific visual examples when talking about the rise of the smartphone as a tool. However I will supplement these examples with the theory and ideology from Stephen Mayes. Both these examples however are an occasion of the smartphone used in professional sense therefore I need to find and address the usage of the smartphone in the citizen environment as ultimately the smartphone is the tool of the citizen to produce and distribute content.

Chapter Four 

The 911 attack was perhaps the first large scale terror activity to be seen in the 21st Century and the coverage of it was split between citizen and professional. Where most members of the public were too traumatised to photograph, the professionals carried on shooting; however it was some of the raw unprofessional footage from citizens through devices like camera phones that helped to piece together an overview of the happenings. In contrast the events surrounding the killing of Osama Bin Laden were never explained with imagery, Barack Obama maintained that this death was only meant to be as a resolution of 911 and he didn’t want the images of the execution to be used as propaganda. Image-makers have the power to make a difference as demonstrated by practitioners such as Sebastio Salgado and Don McCullin however the overall value of the image itself is declining. With less commercial value in print there are more image-makers moving to work with different organisations such as NGOs and choosing to display their work in a gallery space. However there are many different codes of the ethics that NGOs use which photojournalist and new publications would usually not abide to therefore by supply their work to different organisations, the photojournalist stands to limit the potential of their own work.

Evaluation:

Overall there is less material in this chapter that I would consider using in this chapter; it is more about developing my knowledge and understanding of the genre and the happenings. It has maintained my idea about using the camera phone and networked devices as a tool for producing photographic material and news in my paper. Another aspect that does interest me is the mass of material and footage of 911 compared to that of the Osama Bin Laden killing; there is a definite different between the amount of news produced and distributed by Western News corporations and that of other areas. Potentially there could have been photographic material produced and distributed locally which would counteract Barack Obama’s intention of stamping out material to be used for propaganda however this was never seen. In addition to this there are conspiracy theories that claim that because there is no proof in imagery that Osama Bin Laden wasn’t actually killed and could still be alive. This relates to David Campbell’s ideology as addressed in Phonar that event is not what happened but it is that which is narrated; referencing the concept that imagery narrates events. As long as people produce imagery depicting an event or the people involved; there is evidential ‘proof’ that is has actually happened.

Chapter Five

Ritchin opens this chapter questioning as to whether the photography of war actually goes towards the rebuilding of society afterwards. As referenced earlier in the text Ritchin mentioned that there is a gap in the genre which could be filled with peace photography however the content of this peace photography is yet to be visualised. Ritchin worked with Gilles Peress on a project “Bosnia: uncertain paths to peace” which originated in the early days of the Internet however used an online platform to display the work. There was no set path to the imagery, the user chose to navigate their own path through the content, with the eventual aim being to tailor the journey taken by using previous image choices to try and confront the user with the images they may have been trying to avoid. As mentioned earlier in the text Ritchin stated that the archivist is playing a larger role in the current world of photography and the Internet has been proven to be a good tool for this practise. For example the ESMA opened the Human Rights Museum in 2008 in an attempt to be a memorial space to learn about the past. Photography can also be used as a tool to research and contextualise ourselves and the dynamics of the surrounding world for example James Balog used photography to track the ice movements in a photographic survey.

Evaluation:

As with the previous chapter, there is some interesting content however compared to Chapter Three, there is less material that I would consider including in my research paper. I am interested in the part where Fred Ritchin introduces the idea of peace photography and this is a concept he also addresses in his interviews for Phonar (Internet Archive 2013); maintaining that photographers need to become proactive as opposed to reactive. However as this material isn’t directly addressed in this text, I will choose to research and evaluate it further in the context of listening to the interview. However the project between Peress and Ritchin could possibly be a case study or at least a referent in my research paper when elaborating on the effects and issues raised by the digital impact on photojournalism. Aside from the technology affecting photojournalism there is also a need to address the dynamics and ethics which also control the genre and form and ultimately affect photography in a wider context.

Chapter Six

In reference to the archive and the Internet Ritchin addresses the fact that the Internet is endless however images can still get lost on them. In contrast althought publications can physically disappear, the imagery and content was condensed and much easier to identify and navigate through. The front page structure of the publication is a format that has been around since the photoessay began and even in digital environments this format is still seen. However the power of control over the content and representation is a controversial aspect; Ritchin suggests that perhaps it should be the victims of the conflict and events that decide which content is used in the narration of that experience and ultimately how they are represented. The front page is a concept that has been subjected to question in relation to the current dynamic of photojournalism; what would it look like and would it be effective on devices such s Google Glass? In addition to this the MIT Media Lab is working on a device that will project a newspaper onto a table, however what format would this newspaper conform to? Perhaps the rolling structure of the Internet would suit a new format such as the project “This is Kroo Bay” by Save the Children. Which is an interactive site shaped by ‘webisodes’ allowing the reader to interact and engage with the subjects in questions.

Evaluation:

Ritchin touches on a number of interesting issues with photojournalism in its current state; the loss of the front page, the representation of vulnerable subjects, and new techniques for photojournalism in the digital age. All of which are possible avenues for my research paper, especially the new techniques in photojournalism, does digital technology have the capacity to replace the front page with a new dynamic? I definitely want to include this subject in my research paper as it addresses the capacity of digital photojournalism however interestingly enough most news and photojournalism is still seen in the same format created through industrialisation. Representation and who should have the power is also a really interesting point, Martha Rosler and other practitioners worked to represent the vulnerable without producing what they defined as ‘victim photography’. As explored in Phonar collaboration with the subject can improve the process of representation as the power is increased for the subject. However Ritchin takes this concept to a new level and suggests the victims should have the power of the content in which they are depicted, perhaps this is what has encouraged the rise in citizen journalism as the public can have the power to construct a narrative about the environment in which they are familiar.

 

OVERALL EVALUATION:

Through the reading of Bending The Frame and other titles, I have identified that Ritchin’s ideology (paired with that of Stephen Mayes) would be an ideal framework to begin writing my symposium paper. Ritchin addresses and discusses many key areas that I feel I need to draw on in my paper such as the capacity of digital photojournalism, representation, citizen journalism and the changing format of the traditional photoessay. There are several useful case studies throughout the course of this book which I am definitely considering using such as the features run by Time Magazine. These will become my visual examples in my presentation and will allow me to explain my points more effectively. As some of these are interactive however I plan to tweet people a link to the resources either before/after my presentation so they can view it in their own time.

Ritchin’s ideology is one that I view as perceptive and fair, however I am aware that by focusing entirely on one source means you can only perceive the world from one viewpoint. This is why I have conducted extensive research and tried to build up a comprehensive overview of photojournalism and the contemporary issues involved with the practice. Bending The Frame was a really good start to this process and it has proved to have been an extremely useful source however I need to continue the researching process to write a quality research paper.

Reference for this source:

Reference: Ritchin, F. (2014) Bending The Frame US: Aperture

 

 

 

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