Interview between Jonathan Worth, Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes

As I identified that Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes would be an influential part of my research paper, I felt it would be beneficial to me to revisit the interview made by Jonathan Worth in which Ritchin and Mayes discuss ideas related to Bending The Frame and current photojournalism. My notes and the evaluation can be seen below:

Jonathan – questions/points

  • Who should be in charge of the information?
  • Who should teach the skills of technology and photojournalism?
  • Can the photojournalist let the viewer down by not providing an outlet of way for people to help
  • Visit Simon Norfolk’s work of Afghanistan

Stephen Mayes – background

  • CEO of VII photo agency (agency of photojournalists)
  • Worked in fashion/commercial previously
  • Describes himself now as a ‘visual entrepreneur’

Stephen Mayes – ideology

  • Commercial aspect is key – those who are attempting to make a living will need an income from it (however we will figure it out)
  • Commerce has shaped the form of documentary and news that we live – structure of magazines, then TV has shaped the structures and styles that we are used to
  • There has been a ‘transliberation’ – practical problem of generating income/commercial constraints vs. invention in how news is gathered, contextualised and distributed – we can reinvent how news and documentary works, everything is free of commerce at this point
  • This liberation could be a problem however it could be a huge opportunity
  • The structure of the magazine/photo essay was essentially born of technology and was part of the commercial process- it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the most effective tool of using these images/data
  • There is a lot of confusion with too many sources of information, the sources are cryptic/foreign however there are standards that are emerging – there is potential for a much more creative way for news to be told
  • The traditional form of story telling is very much simplified – all this has sprang apart and we are confronted with complexity now which might be a better way of describing the world
  • Optimistic = pessimist who doesn’t know all the facts
  • All of the problems Ritchin describes could be changed – the front page was very much a form of control, making exclusions to centre around a focal idea – perhaps it was a risky tool to exclude everything else that was going round in the world, there was actually no way to know if the people actually reading and engaging with the ‘front page’ story? The chances are it would be the people that already engage and want to change therefore we might not need the entry point?
  • We are experiencing a longer form of journalism already because it never ends, it comes to us in a rolling stream and we are also liberated from the constrictions of the constructed package of a story to create a neat summary of what was going on in the world, there is an ever rolling evolution of stories with have no beginning/middle/end
  • Although content moves through the internet very quickly it is easy to follow and track the developments – the websites will also always be there, print magazines disappear – we are giving people more opportunity to do things about the issue online, you can like/share/comment/donate/volunteer as a result of the media – we can act more as a community
  • We are developing tools where we can find and target people who we know are more likely to get involved and compare
  • Reflecting on Simon Norfolk work – someone was horrified that a photojournalist could be considered as a story teller (the origins of storytellings for ancients were metaphors that brought us truths) news information should be facts not stories. Simon Norfolk’s work is a draw back to a more profound form of story telling
  • Story telling has evolving to indicate what might have happened in contrast to factual reporting and what has happened, Mayes finds it is an enriching and gratifying process considering the power of the metaphor – photography has always been trapped in the notion of depicting
  • Simon is part of a bigger trend where the metaphor is used increasingly in storytelling
  • Examples of the image to provoke action: image of youth wearing a hoodie in the US – the Trevon Martin – it did galvanise action form a massive amount of people but sadly to the wrong effect, it was a socially driven example. Another example was the huge Facebook reaction to the scanners at US Airports that it was said could reveal everything underneath their clothing thousands said they would not use the scanners and pose a strike however only one person did it
  • We are moving past the idea that the photographic can only be interpreted as a fact, photography could be a more thoughtful metaphoric medium

Fred Ritchin – background

  • Professor at New York University
  • Picture editor at New York Times Sunday Magazine
  • Written three books

Fred Ritchin – ideology

  • Photographer we think of is a reactive individual with a camera / visual journalist is someone that can be a ‘meta-photographer’ dealing with contextualisation
  • The visual journalist can be a proactive/peace photographer – much broader definition of someone that will just respond to an event
  • Hyper-photographer is someone that can work with interactive non-linear technology will probably work with sound/video/still images
  • PROBLEM: Diminishing sense that the media is telling us things of importance, and people are less willing to pay for it – older models of marginal/mainstream/conventional media is imploding
  • We need to figure out the hybridisation of media which includes the contributions from the citizen journalist has the context and the serendipitous fact of being in the right place when things happen – however we need the professional to prioritise and filter the most important content and put it all together
  • The idea of citizenship in journalism – people needed to know what was going on in a timely manner to understand their world, if people aren’t willing to take on this role journalism becomes sort of entertaining, people are still suffering but people can’t/won’t do anything about it
  • The ‘simplified’ form of media was to implore people to try and help assist the victims of the events that we are describing – there has been complexity since the first forms of media – however the role of the news is to be understood and read, the older forms of media were to get people interested in 6/8 pages
  • There is no front page at this point, if the Napalm girl image was released today it might be on the internet for an hour, it wouldn’t be the image for change
  • Not everyone in the world should be reinventing media – there is still a need for photography/media to be useful for the sake of the youth who will need that form of old media to learn/understand about the world
  • 5 year projects of more artistic documentary photographers may release a book or build a website/exhibition but realistically how many people actually see the images/content?
  • Take Afghanistan – what can we actually do about it? There was no image that we could rally around and share ideas on. Do people actually know anything about Afghanistan and the culture? People are ill-educated in terms of foreign affairs and cultures. In Ritchin’s experience he knew that if he saw an image the rest of the public were likely to have seen the same one and this meant people could come together collectively – you could go to the subway and talk to people
  • There is no entry point in the media anymore – the image that was used as a rallying point was the entry point, the front page had a good use in the world – the online gesture of liking/sharing/making a comment is very half-hearted – the images of the killing of Osama bin Laden weren’t realised because the government thought people wouldn’t believe them and didn’t want to enrage people that were already angry
  • You have to think about things in terms of the rich country ideas against the poor country ideas – the victims don’t want people to learn about the famine/war that is affecting them, they want them to help, ‘if my house was on fire I wouldn’t want people educated about fire and houses, I would want them to help’
  • Although the internet has given an explosion of possibilities for people to search and learn at their leisure however for those people who are suffering they want people to have a more focussed effect on helping
  • The magazines/papers gave people the power and focus to shame or expose negative situations in society and make people want to change something about it
  • There is a difference between ‘us and them’ news – us is where the change is happening in our social environment however them is when the events are happening in foreign countries/cultures to us – the Vietnam girl image could be considered as an image metaphor for war as it descried horror, it became a symbol of a ruined social situation
  • It is simple and easy to use photography to tell a story without needing to make something up
  • Although you can learn a lot from Simon Norfolk’s series of images, for example he talks through the history of Afghanistan, he only shows his work in galleries, his work might not have as much as an impact as a typical print image would – perhaps society doesn’t want to be impacted – we are resisting the front page because we want to live in our own bubble and be protected against the happenings we don’t like
  • There is no prevailing point of view: there is a flood of different views that could be completely misinformed by false or ill conceived information
  • There is no sense of discourse or dialogue- the government used to be the fourth estate in which journalists would have a dialogue is – there is now a fifth estate which are those who hack and reveal information
  • There is no efficient sense of filtering information now – increasing sense of utopianism – the possibilities of the automobile were wonderful however they brought all kinds of problems that were brought with it
  • The internet is powerful and great in the sense of commerce however it isn’t very good at bringing a news story forward to an individual



There was so much content in this interview that I am still revisiting it and gaining new ideas and picking up new points therefore since I am using Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes as framework for my paper I needed to listen to this interview again and note down the important ideas. This opposition created by Jonathan Worth in the interview formed the basis of my structure as I felt I could discuss the relevant debates and issues in photojournalism using the ideology from Ritchin and Mayes to compliment and contradict each other.  The key idea I am taking away from Stephen Mayes in this interview is the idea that digital, online photojournalism is a rolling, continuous stream and that we need photojournalism to adapt to suit and take advantage of this dynamic. One of the key ideas I am taking away from Fred Ritchin in this interview is the changing professional and the concept that we are moving away from the iconic images associated with analogue photojournalism to produce larger, more informed bodies of work. This associates with my discussions of the context for the final outcome as this is as equally important as the photographic process because the work needs to be interpreted in the right way. There are so many other points and concepts in this interview that will be so relevant both in relation to my research paper and the blog posts I am planning to write. Overall revisiting this interview has been extremely beneficial to me and has shaped the structure for my research paper.


Reference: Worth, J. (2013b) Stephen Mayes, Fred Ritchin and Jonathan Worth [online] available from <; [5 January 2015]


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