New Digital Techniques in Photojournalism

The transition from analogue to digital photography has facilitated new forms of photography including the increasing prevalence of moving image and sound in photographic work. According to practitioner and writer Joan Fontcuberta where the analogue photograph is static and linear, the digital image is fluid and able to exist in the latent and manifest state almost simultaneously. Where analogue was often criticised for being too slow, the digital image has the capacity to innovate photojournalism in terms of both speed and delivery. The emergence of immersive and interactive media has transformed the practice of photojournalism and created the opportunity for new modes of delivery. However in the current state of photojournalism it appears that format of the singular image in the context of the photoessay is remaining present, perhaps photojournalists needs to break the framework that analogue has laid down in order to progress and produce effective, digital photojournalism.

Stephen Mayes characterised digital technology as the escape from the photoessay which was a product of industrialisation. Time Magazine have embraced this liberation and worked to create innovative new features such as Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, Faces of The Dead and Watching Syria’s War. Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a digital feature which tracks the timeline of an avalanche that affected the lives of many people.

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Despite sharing a resemblance with the format of the traditional photoessay, as the viewer scrolls down through the feature the capacity of digital technology is revealed with embedded photographs, video and sound. In addition to this the viewer takes an active role in reading as they can choose to activate or deactivate the content in the feature. Time Magazine also produced Faces of the Dead which features creative data visualisation combined with photography to produce an interactive feature.

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Each portrait is made up of many little squares which the viewer can choose to click on; each individual square represents a U.S soldier who has been killed in action and by clicking their square the photograph of him and information about him can be seen. It is a creative construction that is extremely thought provoking when the meaning is understood, the viewer is confronted with the knowledge that all the tiny squares resemble the death of a person and the effect created is serious and reflective. In addition to this Time Magazine have established the platform Watching Syria’s War which is comprised of video content contributed by citizens which is then organised and archived into different categories.

 

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Fred Ritchin stated that photography and video are intertwined, there can now be a photofilm and a film still each existing as separate entities. In photojournalism now, video is just as important as photography as the kinetic properties allow for a greater capacity of representation and information. The element of citizen participation also contributes to a more accurate representation as they have the ‘insider’ status Abigail Solomon Godeau explores. The digital techniques used by Time Magazine explore and demonstrate the capacity and potential for digital photojournalism. The use of moving image, still image, sound, data visualisation and data visualisation works to create a more informed, contextualised feature which will work to engage and provoke the audience to take social action. It is evident that digital technology has the potential to innovate the field of photojournalism however it needs practitioners and organisations to take on the challenge.

The project ‘This Is Kroo Bay’ by Save The Children uses new digital techniques to examine and portray the lifestyle and stories of a particular culture.

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The use of sound, image and moving image immerses the viewer into the situation and lends to a more participatory viewing experience. By drawing away from the limitative single image approach we allow for new modes of delivery which are comprehensive and contextualised from which the viewer can learn more from what they could possibly learn from the single image format. In this sense, aesthetic and linguistic context works together to form a larger, more informed narrative. However the slower pace of this approach could conflict with the accelerated speed of the current news cycle, in terms of reactive photography, the single image could be considered the most appropriate format because of the simplicity and compatibility. Fred Ritchin debates that as photojournalists campaigning for social change, there needs to be more ‘proactive’ photography, negotiating issues before they happen as opposed to reacting to the events afterwards. If the nature and dynamic of the news cycle can be adapted to suit proactive practitioners, the capacity of photojournalism could grow to seeking preventative social change.

Accompanying new digital technology is the creation of a different type of media, social media which was primarily invented to facilitate communication on a global scale. As Stephen Mayes identified, we are now producing content for the screen and the idea of screen culture is predominately associated with social media communication. Where the photoessay was product of industrialisation, it could be perceived that social media is the product of digitisation. With the production of communication technology comes the idea of intelligent technology; it is now possible to Internet software to seek and store metadata about each individual which then builds up a picture of trends, habit and preferences. This knowledge is then sold to third parties who choose to target the individuals with specific adverts, search results and suggestions. This process has contributed to the formation of what TED speaker Eli Pariser characterises as ‘online filter bubbles’ which construct and shape the information seen by each individual.

The idea of digital technology shaping the information that is seen by each individual is perhaps destructing the ideology behind the democratic state; freedom of information. By shaping results, technology is effectively restricting other results meaning that the citizen has less control over the photojournalism they can see. There are alternative search engines such as DuckDuckGo which doesn’t track and store search inputs however there are not widely known. As the public continues to search using this tracker technology they risk becoming a spectacle, perhaps with the stored information there will be more discovered instances such as Abu Ghraib. The concept of intelligent technology deciding which information the citizen sees is perhaps comparative to the choice made by conventional media and social media in deciding what the audience needs to know. However this technology increasingly restricts the challenging content and presents the public with information it consider they desire. The evolution of new digital technology has perhaps facilitated a trend in photojournalism where the viewer is no longer confronted with the provoking imagery that will facilitate social change.

Overall it is evident that technology has the capacity to innovate and revolutionise photojournalism with the introduction of new elements such as moving image, sound, interactivity and data visualisation. These new modes of delivery have developed a form of photojournalism which is more informed and contextualised and will perhaps be more effective at narration. However the development of intelligent technology is perhaps threatening the purpose of photojournalism to inform. By giving it the power to restrict and tailor the content seen by each individual the technology deconstructs the notion of presenting content that the public needs to know and instead gives them content it expects them to desire. In order to progress and discover the full potential of digital technology to narrate it appears that intelligent technology needs to be addressed and negotiated to avoid the manipulation of important information.

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