The role of the photojournalist extends past the act of taking a photograph, the photographer must decide what format their work will take and what environment it should be viewed in. Previously the photojournalist would predominately present their photographs to the photo-editor of the conventional organisation who would then work with the main content editor to decide which photographs would be used where and how they would be laid out. Now the dynamic has changed due to social media and other publishing platforms, in an interview with Jonathan Worth Marcus Bleasdale stressed that photographers aren’t just that anymore, they are publishers too. With more spaces in which to display their photographs, photojournalists appear to be breaking away from the conventional photo essay format, not just because of the new digital techniques available but because it allows them to have control over the content they produce. Perhaps instead of the professional photojournalist being in danger, the real threat is to the photo-editor as their role can now be bypassed.
With the content of photojournalism changing perhaps the environment of the final visual outcome needs to be changed too. The World Press Photo competition winners participate in a global tour around the world, these photojournalist type photographs being viewed in a gallery-like space is quite different from that of the original photo essay, however there is still the notion of aesthetic and context research.
Photographic based artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin created a body of work called ‘The Day Nobody Died’ which explores a different side to war, the banality in between the portions of explosive action.
The work consisted of large piece of photographic paper which were exposed to the sun on a day in which no soldiers were killed. The significance of this work was the conceptual nature, which means that it is most effective in a conceptual-type space such as an art gallery. Another similar practice that is perhaps geared to the gallery environment is documentary photography; unlike photojournalism, documentary photography is a longer, drawn out process which focuses more on making an artistic statement. Photographer David Moore said that his documentary practice was highly subjective, used to make a comment rather than to factually inform. The gallery spaces allows this open interpretation with the simplistic surroundings allowing the viewer to project their own emotions and feelings to create a meaning. However the purpose of photojournalism isn’t to comment, it is to inform; by displaying photojournalism in an art-based environment it could be seen that the purpose of the image has been corrupted. Martha Rosler stated that it is important to distance informative photography from conceptual photography in relation to photographic manipulation, however is this concept just as important when referring to the context in which it is viewed?
Marcus Bleasdale is a photojournalist who is perhaps most well known for his body of work Rape Of A Nation which depicted the conflict surrounding the mineral market in the Congo. This work was influential however Bleasdale didn’t leave it there; he stated that by publishing in the conventional photo essay the photojournalist is ‘preaching to the already converted’.
Bleasdale negotiated this notion by choosing to adapt Rape Of A Nation into different forms to engage with different audiences; first into a series of graphic comics to engage with a much younger audience and now into a video game which would engage digital natives with the interactivity.
It was the adaptation of this body of work into different forms that made it effective for each audience it was intended for. Bleasdale demonstrates the active role a photojournalist can have in the production and dissemination of their own work. The collaborative nature of each adaptation also expands the work into different mediums which could potentially increase it’s capacity to continue informing and engaging news audiences. With the change from analogue to digital there is now a wealth of new possibilities open to the photojournalist in terms of taking ownership of their work and adapting it to engage with different audiences, in new innovative ways. In an interview with Jonathan Worth, photojournalist Shahidul Alam stated that ‘photography is a tool’, and as Marcus Bleasdale demonstrates, it can be continuously evolving.
It is clear that the role of the photojournalist has changed in the digital age, however there are other complexities aside from the obvious issues such as manipulation and misrepresentation. As the genre expands and diversifies it is becoming increasingly complex to identify the appropriate format and environment for the final visual outcome. However after investigating it would appear that the photojournalist must take ownership of their own work to ensure it completes the purpose for which it was made. Informative imagery must be distanced from that of conceptualist imagery, however that doesn’t mean that photojournalism doesn’t belong in a gallery environment. In addition to this the audience for which the work for must be considered in order to use the right photographic techniques. The notion of collaborative negotiation between other mediums poses a solution to the complexities and would appear to open up new possibilities for the practice of photojournalism. However it needs the practitioner to take on responsibility and adapt their role from photographer, to publisher.