Why Is This Work Important?

Like many other individuals in the world today, I am becoming increasingly involved in the practice and the community of gaming. Fallout 4 is the first game that I have felt really connect me to the community, however when playing I felt extremely morally challenged by the questions being asked of my character and also me as a player. The entire story of Fallout 4 is complex and non-linear, due to the nature of the game, meaning every different player would experience the order of the story different and perhaps not experience parts of it at all. Whilst I appreciated I was playing a game, I also couldn’t avoid my emotional investment in the story towards my character and others. Suggesting that although the game is a fictional piece of entertainment, it could also be considered as a space in which to explore moral questions that might not, or couldn’t be asked in the context of material reality. There are on going discussions about video games being viewed as an art form, with sophisticated graphics that require a high level of computer literate artistry (Travinor 2009). A new emergent medium has been created through these video games, referencing photo-realism but building on it and creating a new stylistic world. The camera represents the device through which the game player both views and explores their world and more recently, through which the player can produce their own form of photographic-type artistry (Giddings 2013). It is this practice of videogame photography that I wish to produce, the images I intend to create will document the locations I associate with my play through of the story and therefore places I believe my character would most likely remember too. In addition to this I aim to capture the environment that my character travelled through in order to progress through the storyline, capturing these in-between places. My choice to engage with the concept of video games and video game art, is because I believe that gaming is becoming more and more important culturally. The industry is growing due to increased technology allowing for a higher calibre of games and because more individuals are becoming part of the gaming community, myself included.

As I have identified, the content in the games can also become an important part of culture as it prompts discussions about both current and futuristic issues, despite them happening in a fictional environment. Likewise, the practice of photography has been recognised as culturally important at engaging with current world issues. In the area of photojournalism and documentary photography especially, photography has served as the means to communicate where perhaps words couldn’t. There have been many iconic images that have stood out and served as the face of some of the most important stories, including but limited to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Kevin Carter’s image of a starving child and Nick Ut’s image of the girl fleeing a napalm attack. In many of these cases the photographer has been criticised for not intervening in the moment and helping the subject of the photograph, despite these images being the catalyst for social change. Whilst these iconic images may not have directly benefitted the subjects featured in them, in some cases they manage to incite cultural change, a great achievement for a singular image. However there are flaws in photography, past the photographer not always being able to directly help the subject they are photographing. Photojournalism and documentary photography have been the focus of much critical debate about the relationship between photography and truth. The practice of photography itself has historically been labelled as objective, with Walter Benjamin and Andre Bazin identifying the apparent lack of the human hand in the creation of the image, focusing on the mechanical production. However behind the apparently objective mechanics of the camera is an extremely subjective photographer, a human being that has been shaped by their own experience of life. A person that has their own opinion, design preference, style of photography and all of these are communicated through the image; whether the photographer wants them to be or not. Objective photography, in my subjective opinion, is impossible.

So what does a photograph represent if not the an objective truth? And if a photograph doesn’t or can’t represent the truth, then why do we still believe what is depicted in them? So, it would be foolish to suggest that all people believe what they see in photographs to be true. Audiences of images have become increasingly sceptical of the content following various editing scandals in popular media. The first identifiable cases of manipulation in the media can be traced back to the National Geographic Cover of the Pyramids, where the photograph taken was manipulated to bring the two pyramids closer, so that the image could work with the portrait orientation of the cover. The invention and increase of digital technology facilitated a wave new photographs that were altered, shaping certain genres of photography such as beauty; where it is culturally acknowledged that the photograph is probably altered. The theory supporting this scepticism is naive realism, which proposes that the reality we perceive in our own certain way, is definitely reality. In photography naive realism relates to a person looking at an image and believing the photograph to be able to represent the entirety of reality in one frame, despite there being many other elements to reality (such as movement and sound). Naive realism in reality, proposes that as humans we believe that our way of perceiving the world constitutes what reality is, that is because we can perceive colours we believe these colours are reality, despite other animals only being able to perceive shades of black and white.

In my work, I will be using the concept of naive realism, to create a visual experiment. The images that I am producing could be perceived as reality if the viewer doesn’t look closely to pick out the details, some of them are closer to the reality we experience as humans and some of them focus on details that are unrealistic to us (as the game is set in a post-nuclear war environment. These images will aim to serve as an eye-opener for those who believe everything they see in a photograph, whilst appearing to be a normal artistic piece documenting landscapes. However whilst one purpose of this piece is to be a visual experiment on the concept of naive realism, I also want it to explore the sophisticated narrative experience of contemporary gaming. Fallout 4 is a choice-based game, which means that each player of the game has the potential to create a different storyline; from the order in which the player experiences the main storyline, down to the choices that can be made during conversations between characters. This dynamic means that each different player creates their own version of the Fallout 4 story. My set of images document the version of the story that I created through the specific choices I made my gameplay. This work is important because it engages with two concepts that I believe are currently very important culturally: the world of video games and naive realism. Combing these two concepts has allowed me to create a really interesting piece of work that both follows my character’s unique story in the game Fallout 4 and plays on the idea of naive realism, by attempting to trick the viewer into believing that the landscapes in the images are of a real world.

 

List of References:

Giddings, S. (2013) ‘Drawing Without Light, Simulated photography in videogames’ in

Travinor, G. (2009) The Art of Video Games. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell

 

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Research – Street Photography

When I identified that street photography would be the best approach for the photography in my ASL project I wanted to research two defining examples of cultural street photography and portraiture: Robert Frank and Walker Evans. Their two pieces of photographic work examining the American culture and environment uses an approach I felt I would like to take when photographing my subjects. It references an encounter and the aim of the image is to provide a somewhat detached response providing an overview of that person and their place in their social environment. Although my project will be focusing more on the person than the landscape, I still need to consider the landscape and the background in the composition of my images as this will have an effect on the image and the interpretation taken.

Walker Evans

Walker Evans is considered to be an influential photographer in the area of documentary and cultural photography, renowned for his objective style approach. Evans was in the era heavily influenced by Cartier Bresson and his ideology surrounding the ‘decisive moment’ and being an observer of the environment. This detached style references Barthes’ dynamic of the operator, spectator and target as the viewer of the photograph becomes the observer over the subject and their relationship to their environment. I chose to look at Walker Evans’ book ‘American Photographs’ to examine the manner in which he explored the American culture through both portraits and landscapes.

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  • It is noticeable in this portrait that the subjects are aware they are being photographed however they don’t look comfortable being in the frame – there is a sense of annoyance and disturbance
  • The photograph is taken slightly from above due to the subjects being seated in their vehicle, this creates a notion of power imbalance with the photographer holding the position of authority and control
  • The crop is quite open so the viewer can see the background behind the subjects, they can see that they are in a car in a street with moving traffic around – the viewer can make their own assumptions and interpretations of the environment in which the subjects occupy

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  • This portrait is different to the last one as although the photographer still has control over the representation; the power dynamic appears to be slightly less imbalanced
  • The subject appears comfortable in front of the camera and happy for the picture to be taken as opposed to the previous photograph
  • The background being close to the subject prevents the viewer from attempting to consider their environment, it is clear that the purpose of this photograph is for the viewer to look solely at the subject
  • Shooting in black and white, although the only choice in that time, brings out the texture of the wood background and the print of the clothing
  • The contrast appears to be fairly high in this image which accentuates the shadows and the details brought out by the black and white tone

 

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  • It is unclear here whether the subject knows they are being photographed or whether they have chosen to look away from the frame – the close crop would suggest that Evans was close to her but as a viewer we can’t know this
  • The crop is close as before but this time the subject does have some interaction with the environment so the viewer doesn’t just consider the subject on her own – there are some details about the environment which is interesting to look at which is perhaps why Evans shot in a different manner to the previous portrait

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  • There is a definite sense of power and respect in this portrait, the subject is shot from slightly below which indicates that they have a greater authority in the relationship between subject and photographer
  • Being black and white, the details in the photograph are very apparent, the buttons and texture of the uniform and the emblem on the hat
  • The eye contact means that the viewer engages with the subject and attempts to make an interpretation about their character

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  • This portrait, although similar to that of the previous close-crop portraits, appears to focus on a person of a lower socioeconomic background, this impression comes from his attire
  • Despite the probably difference in status, the image doesn’t appear to be a domination of the subject, the photograph is taken at the same eye level as the subject, not looking down on him which gives the viewer the impression that both the subject and photographer are equals
  • The subject is confronting the camera holding a gaze with the lens which suggests that this is a powerful, strong individual, there is no subordinate behaviour shown in his reaction to being photographed

 

Robert Frank

Robert Frank is perhaps well known most for his project, The Americans, which is what I am looking at in my analysis. As in immigrant to America from Switzerland, Frank is discussed for his ‘outsider’ position when photographing the subject in his project The Americans, as he was relatively unfamiliar to the culture and environment having grown up in another country. Frank was associated with Walter Evans however his style of photography appeared to offer a new perspective on the subject content. I have chosen to research Frank in relation to his approach to street photographer as proclaimed ‘outsider’ and how this may have had an impact his process of photographing. Choosing the American environment and culture as a subject pits Robert Frank up against the other great photographers of the time, like Walker Evans, which provides me with a good basis for comparison. Although Evans may not be completely classed as an ‘insider’ to the cultural and socioeconomic groups of subjects he photographed, it is thought that was closer to the American dynamic than Frank.

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  • Instantly I see a more abstract, creative approach to photographing the subject matter than Walker Evans did previously.
  • The focus has shifted from trying to capture portraits, or urban landscapes and is more about capturing the aesthetic of the environment in front of him, observing interesting opportunities to frame content.
  • He has captured the people, most likely without their permission however there is a aspect of privacy as it is hard to tell who the subjects are in the image, suggesting a consideration from Frank, accepting that this from of photography can be intrusive
  • This image depicts what is perhaps considered the outsider stance, however it is made in an interesting way, this image doesn’t presume to represent anything about the subject other than their relationship within the environment he has captured, and the interesting composition – Frank hasn’t selected the people, he has framed the opportunity

 

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  • This image is slightly different to the first image I have analysed, it doesn’t particularly look like the conventional American environment, as it strays away from the urban street environment
  • The image is so very well composed, it looks more like documentary photojournalism that it does a study of the environment
  • There is a sense of lifestyle in this image which is perhaps established with the landscape orientation, the viewer doesn’t associate this as a portrait as starts to relate to it as an image of reality

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  • This image looks very much like a fashion portrait, similar to the work of that of Richard Avedon
  • It appears to reference the timeless, elegant look we now call vintage, however at the same the look would have been in fashion with the upper class individuals
  • Although this does look more like a portrait, there is still something different about it, the lack of eye contact creates the impression that subject is being observed, perhaps without their knowledge

 

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  • This image is very similar in aesthetic to that of Dorthea Lange and her portrait, Migrant Mother, there is a distinct similarity between the wooden background and the tone of the image.
  • As with many of Franks other images there is a lack of eye contact with the subjects in the photograph, exaggerating Frank’s outsider status as he appears to be an observer
  • The subjects appear to be very comfortable in front of the camera, regardless of whether they know they are being photograph or not, this technique of looking away from the camera could actually put the subject more at ease, creating the possibility that Frank isn’t predominately observing

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  • Robert Frank also documents the environment and the traces of human existence, capturing the lasting impact humans have had on the American landscape
  • The subject matter being the road could perhaps reference the increasing levels of travel as infrastructure developed and so did the idea of the American, prompting many to move to the cities in order to try and make their success in an urban environment
  • The idea of straying away from portraits is an effective and different approach to photographing the American environment, perhaps the portraits could be referred to as the landscapes of culture.

 

Reflection:

There are both parallels and differences between the way Evans and Frank shoot and this is because of their different shooting styles, however the concept of the ‘outsider’ is also very relevant. With Walker Evans it appears predominately as though Evans aims to capture the individual and in doing so, considers their relationship to their surrounding environment, sometimes incorporating features in the photograph. There is a lot of eye contact in Evans images and he appears to treat the subject with respect, his framing giving them a power status, or at least the status of equals in his images, which encourages the viewer not to pity them. This stance is not taken however in the image of the two individuals in the car who appear to be frustrated at being photographed, focusing down on the main issue with street photography; whether to ask the subject if they will accept being photographed and when to ask this question. In the cases where it is obvious Evans has most likely entered into an agreement with the subject before hand, there is a specific type of image being taken, staged and controlled by both the subject and photographer. In the real candid photography, the subject does not primarily give the photographer permission to take the photograph and must instead express their emotions in the frame the photographer takes. Some individuals will reject this however others will continue their actions or not even notice the image is being taken. This approach would suggest to give a more accurate representation of the subject as if they not are aware of being photographed, they are less likely to change their behaviour and present themselves differently. Analysing Walker Evans images has introduced me to ways to frame my own street photography and thrown up cautions and challenges I may encounter when producing my images.

With Robert Frank’s images there is a distinctly different approach to the way he photographs his subjects, almost always appearing to be a detached observer. This stance of photographing and his immigrant status must have encouraged the discussions around his process being that of an ‘outsider’ as he is not inherently familiar to the culture he is photographing. Abigail Solomon Godeau addressed the outsider stance as being a negative position in the case of Diane Arbus photographing the outsiders in society. It is explained that the works of Nan Goldin and Larry Clark were a more positive form of photography because they are deeply involved in their subject matter. This would indicate that Robert Frank’s photography should be destructive to the subjects he is photographing because of his outsider status, however to me, this doesn’t appear to be the case. The important thing to consider when photographing people, is whether this is going to be a portrait, a representation of them, if that is the case then the insider approach would definitely be desired. However Frank appears to be photographing the environment, making the people part of his composition and therefore not trying to presume he knows anything about them. There isn’t really much to indicate that Frank is trying to represent anything other about them than their physical relationship with the environment he is photographing. One really interesting aspect about Frank’s photographs is that he appears to try and reference other images from other photographers in his own, I observed similarities between Frank’s images and that of Richard Avedon’s fashion portraits and Dorothea Lange’s renowned image of the Migrant Mother. This could be intentional or it could have been a subconscious decision made by Frank in his photographic process, but is something to consider when approaching my own street photography.

The most important thing for me to consider after researching these two photographers is my stance to the individuals I will be photographing and whether I want to try and assume an insider or outsider stance, and which one would be the most appropriate for my concept. As I am investigating the idea of the instantaneous encounter, I would think that an outsider approach is needed as I can’t assume to know anything about the subjects I am photographing apart from the information I can gather on sight. However I can’t take the same approach as Robert Frank and simply document them in relationship to their environment because it is the people I am interested in, as on the Internet you do not know where the person actually is when talking to them. Therefore I must try and disregard the environment when photographing these individuals and just photograph them as exactly the same place as they were when I first engaged conversation with them. This will mean my images stay true to the idea of the encounter and that I haven’t let my status as a creative interfere with the way the image is taken. What I really want to make sure however is that I am on a level with the person I am photographing, because on the Internet the power statuses that may be established in the physical encounter become void. My images should show that like entering an anonymous conversation, that the power levels are at an equal at the beginning of this encounter.

Choosing renowned street photographers like Walker Evans and Robert Frank have been really beneficial to me, however I am aware I could be criticised for not choosing a more recent example of street photography because my concept is so digital. The reason behind this was because I wanted to research and view the idea of the physical encounter at a time when developed digital technology didn’t exist, as the physical encounter would be the predominately way of meeting other people. I didn’t want to research photographs where the encounter could be corrupted by the subject’s knowledge and capacity of digital technology. Therefore I could apply the ideals behind photography of physical encounters and apply it to my own project to further exaggerate the difference between the online encounter and the physical one. The research into these photographers has given me a good direction to follow in approaching the subject matter of my own project and I feel confident in identifying the approach I want to take when making my own images.

 

Photojournalism Now: Roles and Responsibilities

Photojournalism in the digital age is subject to many complexities and the role of the photojournalist continues to develop. Current debates and discussions surrounding the practice of photojournalism include but are not limited to: responsible representation, manipulation, citizen contribution and the evolution of digital technology. With photojournalism expanding and diversifying there appears to be less control over the nature and the authors of the content produced. In addition to this, the parameters of the professional photojournalist are in a continuing state of flux: a concept predating digital, but amplified by it (Ritchin 2014: 13).

It can be argued that photojournalism formed the understanding of photography as evidence, as it placed a demand on the photographer to create visual representations of the event or issue being investigated (Rosler 2004a: 264). The photograph assumed this demanded role of truth teller despite the apparent limitations to representation posed by the singular framed moment. In addition, despite manipulation always being present in photographic history, speculations about photographic ‘truth’ appeared to gain more prominence (Sontag 1978: 52). The launch of Photoshop Version 1 in 1990 meant that the process of manipulation was accessible to anyone, not just the industry (Adobe n.d.). The resulting ease of manipulation provoked a redefinition of photographic meaning in photojournalism. It now appeared to resemble a visual metaphor instead of the original, evidential form desired. It is thought that digital technology has increased the potential of the image to narrate. However it also appears to have cracked the credibility that the photograph used to possess (Rosler 2004b: 188).

 

Analogue photography in photojournalism originated around the framing of a moment, which then became heavily associated with ‘straight’ or evidential photography (Rosler 2004a: 264). These singular images were integrated into the current format of news, acting as an entry point for the viewer. However when forming a narrative in photography, usually a sequence of images is needed. It could be seen that the singular analogue photograph is limited in capacity, bound by the frame (Rosler 2004b: 189 and 190). In contrast the digital image is a coded entity, considered as fluid and able to exist in both the latent and manifest state almost simultaneously (Fontcuberta 2014: 37). Although still bound by the edges of the frame digital photography appears to have the capacity to change the current forms of narration.

Ritchin likened digital imagery to that of ‘quantum physics’ (Worth 2013b) where the more we try and investigate and examine, the more the data fluctuates. We can extend this metaphor and describe analogue photography as chemistry in both a literal and conceptual sense. Although there are many possibilities, each one can be explained by a series of chemical reactions, constructed and carried out by the practitioner. It has been stated that the purpose of photography is to be ‘useful in the world’ and the capacity of digital technology could take photojournalism further however it needs the practitioner to become ‘proactive’ and take on the responsibility (Worth 2013b). Perhaps the fluid nature of the digital image will encourage new explorations in this field.

 

Photojournalism itself emerged with the industrialisation of news and the surge of mass markets, both contributing to the creation of the illustrated magazine, or photo essay (Warner Marien 2002: 8). The evolution of digital technology has allowed photojournalists and photo editors to explore new methods of narrating an event. Where the photo essay was product of industrialisation, digital technology provides the photojournalist with an escape into new forms of media (Worth 2013b). Time Magazine has certainly embraced this liberation by producing dynamic new features like ‘Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek’ (Ritchin 2013: 59) ‘Faces of The Dead’ (Ritchin 2013: 94) and ‘Watching Syria’s War’ (Ritchin 2013: 92). The use of moving image, sound, interactivity and creative data visualisation in these features support the explorations into new, effective narrative forms, which perhaps could not be achieved through the single photograph (Rosler 2004b: 189-190). In a recent interview, Stephen Mayes described digital, online photojournalism as rolling, a continuous stream of information (Worth 2013b). This environment is perhaps suited to a more creative, contextualised and comprehensive narrative moving away from the safety of the photo essay format.

 

The digital native culture has fully accepted the new form of photographic image; the instantaneous nature along with the developing communication infrastructure has helped shape the current mass image culture. This dynamic conflicts with the ideology of Walter Benjamin who discussed the loss of aura through reproduction and proximity. (Benjamin 1992: 225). The tools of this mass image culture can be integrated into photojournalism as demonstrated by Benjamin Lowy, who used a combination of smartphone photography and the application Hipstamatic to produce his images (Ritchin 2013: 68). However they were met with negativity, head of a photojournalist festival Jean-Francois Leroy stated that using an app reduced the control over the photograph and actually worked to ‘standardise photography’ (Ritchin 2013: 69). Lowy’s images are accessible and familiar, with the aesthetic and format referencing social media such as Instagram. This technique allows the audience to relate and consume the content easily. However the danger of producing this comfortable imagery is that the content doesn’t work to challenge or provoke the viewer, referencing the current trend of main-stream media producing content the audience want to see not what they need to know (TED 2011). The mass image culture has generated an archive of safe, consumable imagery that works to promote, not provoke.

 

Current photojournalism can be perceived as ‘Networked’ (Beckett 2008: 2) with citizens and professionals contributing content. The millennium saw an increase of citizen journalism in media with the 911 attacks acting as the catalyst. Imagery from camera phones became more commonplace in photojournalism as the holder of a smartphone can become an instantaneous producer and publisher. This was particularly evident in the coverage of the 2001 Twin Towers attack and the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which comprised of still image and moving image content. The raw aesthetic of citizen camera content often convinces the viewer that fabrication is less likely. Reduced naivety to manipulation has even provoked the public to question aesthetically perfect images, despite any status of legitimacy. The proximity of the citizen to their environment could also improve their representation. This insider status coupled with a greater awareness generates new questions (La Grange 2005: 125). With no belief in the image, and more citizens taking up a camera, is there actually a demand for the professional photojournalist anymore?

 

Manipulation is a process that was present in analogue photojournalism, however it has gained more awareness in the digital age. Both Ritchin and Rosler addressed the February 1982 National Geographic cover in reference to photographic truth (Ritchin 1990: 26, Rosler 2004a: 271). The distance between the pyramids was digitally altered, potentially destroying their historic association to ‘immutability’ (Rosler 2004a: 270). The parameters of manipulation in photojournalism have never been defined which has perhaps allowed instances in which images are changed to achieve ‘conceptual accuracy’ and ‘aesthetic pleasure’. (Rosler: 2004a: 276). Ethical guidelines in relation to the practise of manipulation must be defined in the context of photojournalism (and distanced from conceptualism) to avoid the exploitation of the audience through naivety (Bersak 2006).

 

A photojournalist’s role can be to construct a representation of victimisation and suffering. There is a responsibility on their part to photograph in a manner that avoids exploitation and misrepresentation, far from Barthes’ original dynamic of operator and target (Barthes 1993: 9). Abigail Solomon Godeau in her ‘Inside/Out’ essay examined the stance taken by photographers in representation of vulnerable subjects, which is especially complex when the photographer isn’t native to the culture and environment. In Kevin Carter’s well-known image, his ‘outsider’ approach could be viewed as imperialistic as there is no personal involvement or connection (La Grange 2005: 125). The distance created in the image reduces the relationship between the photographer and subject to an observing eye (Ritchin 2014: 36). However this is the stance photojournalism desires to achieve objectivity. It has produced iconic imagery Barthes would define, as punctum, drawing an emotional response, but is that enough to help the victim? (Barthes 1993: 26-27). A comprehensive understanding of the subject’s situation might establish continuing support from the audience. Perhaps the future structure of photojournalism should begin with an objective ‘outsider’ image to capture audience attention, which then leads to the larger, more informed body of work producing using the ‘insider’ approach (La Grange 2005: 125). This could work to solve the notion of subject exploitation and misrepresentation.

 

 

In photographic representation, context is the defining concept, however it is equally important to establish the right context for the final outcome (Rosler 2004a: 263, Johnston: 2011). The photojournalist’s responsibility extends past the action of taking a photograph; the imagery must be circulated to the right channels. Marcus Bleasdale has avoided ‘preaching to the already converted’, (Worth 2013a), choosing to adapt his body of work ‘Rape Of A Nation’ (Bleasdale 2008) into different forms to engage with alternative audiences. In contrast to this, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin created the body of work named ‘The Day That Nobody Died’ to comment on the practise of photojournalism (Broomberg and Chanarin 2008). The work was pieces of photographic paper exposed to the sun over the course of a day and has been exhibited in the contemporary art community most recently at the Shanghai Biennale. The significance of this work was the conceptual nature, which means it would be most effective in an environment where it would be perceived as art. Although the work is associated with photojournalism, to publish it in the environment of this genre would be taking it out of context and reducing the capacity to communicate effectively. Conceptual photography is a separate genre and needs distancing from the informative imagery normally associated with photojournalism (Rosler 2004a: 259).

 

It would be accurate to state that the digital age has changed the field of photojournalism, however it would be more perceptive to suggest that it has amplified some of the existing issues. The photograph as evidence has had an unstable history perhaps due to the limitations of the single-image approach (Renaldi 2014). The nature of the digital image and the techniques made available through digital technology has facilitated a new mode of delivery, which is more contextualised (Johnston 2011). Though with the format of print journalism and objective imagery remaining ever present, it appears that a balance of reactionary and proactive, insider and outsider photojournalism is approaching (Worth 2013, La Grange 2005: 125).

However there are considerations that must be addressed such as truthful representation, manipulation, contextual information, circulation to appropriate channels and photographic responsibility (Rosler 2004a: 271, Ritchin 2009: 26, Johnston 2011, Bleasdale 2008). In addition, the parameters of the professional in the current state of photojournalism still need establishing in order to maintain quality in the field (Ritchin 2014: 13). After investigating it would appear that when confronted with complexity, the photojournalist (professional or citizen) must produce an effective, innovative narrative with the tools available, which depicts a responsible, informed representation of the subject. It should challenge and provoke a response from the right audience and be viewed in the appropriate environment (Johnston 2011).

 

 

List of References

 

Adobe Adobe Photoshop release history. [online] available from <http://kb2.adobe.com/community/publishing/925/cpsid_92587/attachments/photoshop_release_versions_history.pdf&gt; [5 January 2015]

Barthes, R. (1982) Camera Lucida. London: Cape

Beckett, C. (2008) Supermedia: saving journalism so it can save the world. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing

Benjamin, W. (1992) ed by Arendt, H. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. London: Fontana

Bersak, D. (2006) Ethics in Photojournalism: past, present, and future. [online] available from <http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/39148&gt; [27 January 2015]

Bleasdale, M. (2008) Rape of a Nation [online] available from <http://www.marcusbleasdale.com/index.php#mi=2&pt=1&pi=10000&s=0&p=0&a=1&at=0&gt; [5 January 2015]

Broomberg, A and Chanarin, O. (2008) The Day Nobody Died [online] available from < http://www.choppedliver.info/the-day-nobody-died/&gt; [27 January]

Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Pandora’s Camera. MACK

Johnston, M. (2011) David Campbell – Narrative, Power and Responsibility [online] available from < https://soundcloud.com/mattjohnston/david-campbell&gt; [27 January 2015]

La Grange, A. (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. London: Focal

Ritchin, F. (2013) Bending The Frame. United States: Aperture

Ritchin. F. 2009 After Photography. New York: W. W. Norton & Company

Rosler, M. (2004a) ‘Image Simulations Computer Manipulations: Some considerations.’ in Decoys and Disruptions: selected writing, 1975-2001. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press

Rosler, M. (2004b) ‘In, Around, and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography).’ in Decoys and Disruptions: selected writing, 1975-2001. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press

Sontag, S. (1978) On Photography. London: Allen Lane

TED (2011) Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles” [online] available from < https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles&gt; [27 January 2015]

Warner Marien, M. (2002) Photography: A Cultural History. 4th edn. London: Laurence King Publishing

Worth, J. (2013a) Marcus Bleasdale in conversation for #phonar [online] available from < https://archive.org/details/MarcusBleasdale121113&gt; [5 January 2015]

Worth, J. (2013b) Stephen Mayes, Fred Ritchin and Jonathan Worth [online] available from <https://archive.org/details/MayesRitchinWorthFull&gt; [5 January 2015]

Worth, J. (2014) Fred Ritchin in conversation for Phonar.org [online] available from <https://archive.org/details/FredRitchinPhonar14&gt; [5 January 2015]

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.

Conventional Media and Social Media

Historically in the practice of photojournalism, conventional media was the sole form of publishing and the format was predominately the illustrated magazine or photo essay. Industrialisation facilitated the invention of the printing press which meant that the magazine and newspaper could be reproduced quickly on a mass scale. As a result, photojournalism could be distributed to a larger number of viewers than ever before which meant that the images were being seen by a wider audience. With the invention of digital technology the photojournalist was introduced to range of new techniques which could be used to display their imagery such as moving image and web space. Digital communication and transmission of images also improved which accelerated the pace of photojournalism which had been previously held back due to the slower photographic process of analogue. Communication diversified and expanded out with the creation of social media in the late 1900s which allowed Internet users to connect with each other in a manner previously unseen. The framework and technology of social media continued to develop and the integration of photo/video uploading meant that the user could become a publisher of content. Now in the current state of photojournalism there appears to be a overlap and a conflict between conventional media and social media in relation to the practice of photojournalism and the dissemination of information.

There appears to have been a convergence between social media and conventional media and between the citizen and professional photojournalist. Writer Charlie Beckett in his book Supermedia describe current journalism at ‘networked’ with both professional organisations and citizens contributing image and moving image content. Conventional media has attempted to participate in social media, The National Geographic now has an Instagram where the employed photojournalists can post images which will then be seen by the organisation’s 30 million followers.

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This attempt by conventional media indicates that the digital native culture is an audience with which they want to engage and the best method for this is transmission through social media. However the structure and social media could perhaps have an impact on the professional photojournalism seen in conventional media; Instagram is restrictive in the fact that it only allows a square format so the original photograph taken has to be cropped which could manipulate the meaning and effect intended. In addition to this photojournalism has seen new methods in producing imagery such as Benjamin Lowy who used smartphone imagery and the application Hipstamatic to produce his photojournalism content.

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The aesthetic of his images, achieved through applying a ‘filter’ (preconceived set of editing actions), became so popular that a ‘Lowy’ filter’ has been created which enables the app user to replicate Lowy’s style. This imagery heavily references the style of images seen on social media such as Instagram and is perhaps softer, more aesthetically pleasing than the majority of imagery we usually associate with photojournalism such as the image by Nick Ut of the girl whose village was attacked with Napalm in Vietnam. These photographers could be considered as too ‘soft’ for photojournalism, the purpose of which is to provoke a response from the reader in order to make social change. Lowy’s images however are comfortable and convenient to consume therefore the reader doesn’t react as much to them. By attempting to link and reference social media it appears that the professional form of photojournalism reduced it’s power to provoke and inform.

The purpose behind social media is to communicate, where previously this may have been predominately text-based, in the current state of photojournalism and communication it can be perceived as increasingly image-based. Where the photoessay was the product of industrialisation, it could be considered that social media is the product of digitisation and the practice of photojournalism appears to evolve into different forms in order to maintain commercial gain as well as disseminating information. Social media now stands as the largest archive of free image and moving image content which has encouraged conventional media to dip in and acquire content to display using conventional platforms. Perhaps the most influential example of this was the happenings in the Abu Ghraib Prison where it was alleged that U.S soldiers subjected their prisoners to torture.

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The significance of this event was that the participants actually shared the documentation of the happenings using social media and were consequently identified as the perpetrators. In this case social media resembled the both the organisation responsible for this crime to to discovered and the organisation responsible for publishing the official story covering it. In extension, the radical group ISIS is using social media in order to spread their ideology and construct an image of terror. The conventional media outlets that are using social media to disseminate information could potentially be perceived as linked to these radical groups in their choice of platform. The blurred boundaries of participation and publication seen in social media could initiate an element of corruption in the practice of photojournalism. If the audience can’t distinguish what is informative and what is performative, the original purpose of photojournalism is rendered mute and could actually begin to encourage destructive, not constructive social change.

The convergence between social media was perhaps inevitable as conventional media would appear foolish not to engage with the mass audience of digital natives using social media to communicate. However once the lines between conventional and social, informative and performative are lost; it could cause confusion over what the purpose of the image being viewed actually is. In addition to this, volatile organisations are now attempting to exploit the audience of social media by taking advantage of collective mass image trends and the power of social media to communicate specific imagery and ideology. If the future of photojournalism is to continue being networked there perhaps needs to be a clearer distinction between informative and social imagery to enable the audience to respond in the appropriate manner. In addition, the content from professional, informative photojournalists needs to maintain the notion of photographic realism and quality to avoid being associated with social media by the aesthetic and therefore reduces the capacity to provoke. The purpose of photojournalism is to facilitate social change and this could be established through the use of both conventional media and social media however the issues associated with each form need to be addressed in order to protect the audience.

Mass Image Culture

Kodak and Polaroid were the first creators of the instantaneous image making, the public immediately took to this idea and the popularity of this instant image culture has grown with the development of digital technology. With more user friendly cameras and most smartphones encompassing adequate level camera technology, the public have been enabled to produce imagery that they perhaps wouldn’t have been capable of using a film camera. In addition to this, the developed communication infrastructure has facilitated the establishment of various social media platforms, all of which allow the sharing of image and moving image content. The public can now produce and instantly share images with the world using their portable networked device. The digital device is limitless and allows for the production of endless images whereas film cameras used to be more restrictive. All these factors have contributed to the current mass image culture, where there are more images produced in a day than ever before. However with social media now representing the largest free archive of image and moving image content; can the photojournalist produce imagery that will be noticed? Or will the professional be usurped by citizen content altogether?

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The original definition of the term image is a formulation of metaphors and similes which indicate meaning; in the digital age however the term has been adapted and manipulated to reference different photography practices. In the context of Phonar, Jonathan Worth and other writers/practitioners have characterised an opposition between the term photograph and the term image. Where the photograph very much refers to the analogue print; the image refers to the coded digital entity which is fluid and able to exist in the latent and manifest form almost at once. Stephen Mayes describes a new medium of photography which has been formed due to instantaneous photography and the sharing culture. He characterised the content on social media as ‘experiential photography’ where the user captures a raw thought and releases it for the world to see. One aspect of photography that has become particularly prevalent in this experiential medium is the self-portrait, or recently characterised as the ‘selfie’. The invention of front-facing cameras has allowed the user to construct a self-portrait in a manner not available before the digital age of photography.

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This mass image trend has been recognised globally with the term being included in the Oxford Dictionary and it being referenced in high scale events such as The Oscars. Celebrity Kim Kardashian has basically shaped her career and exposure using the digital self-portrait. Photography has always been used as self expression, but now with the limitless form of digital image-making, the holder of a smartphone can use their device as a constant tool of self-expression and construct a detailed image-based identity. However with the citizen empowered in relation to their own representation and producing an archive of self-portraiture, is the work of a photojournalist redundant? Is there a need to be trained in the art of representation anymore to be qualified construct a form of pictorial identity as the digital technology enables a form of convenient, quality and instant photography that could render the needs of the photojournalist unwanted.

Marshall McLuhan references mass media in his book Understanding Media, he describes every form of media and possession as an extension of the self. Previously the predominant forms of expression were through possessions such as the house, car and all these were indications of style and the presence of wealth. However social media and photography has facilitated a new dialogue of self expression which opens self expression up to anyone capable of owning a smartphone. As previously discussed, the self-portrait has now become the dominant mode of self expression, particularly in the digital native generation which has contributed to the mass image culture. McLuhan also references mass trends and collective experience in discussing that the tribal nature in mass online culture is particularly strong perhaps influenced by the sense of detachment to online life. As a result society has seen a new wave of terminology to address volatile actions seen in online culture such as ‘trolling’, ‘catfishing’ and ‘revenge porn’; some of which have now had laws passed to enable prosecution. In addition to this there have been some individuals and organisations utilising the nature of the mass image culture to attract attention and spread destructive ideology such as the self proclaimed ‘ISIS’.

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This radical Islamist group have been attempting to spread their ideology and recruit members to their cause. Their image is predominately constructed through moving image footage of graphic nature which is then spread using social media in order to attract an audience. Fred Ritchin in his first book explored the capacity of digital technology to construct our own image, a power which was only previously held by high level individuals. Part of the reason why ISIS have been so successful is the capacity to construct their own image and disseminate their ideology using digital technology and the mass image culture. As addressed in my post on hacking; there will always be individuals that choose to target and exploit and as the number of images produced and shared gradually increases, perhaps the number of these volatile individuals will also increase.

Writer Walter Benjamin was one of the earliest individuals to identify the increase of images through reproduction and the effect it could have. He discussed the concept of ‘aura’, a feeling that is established by distance, for example an individual can be in the aura of a distant mountain range; this aura can be deconstructed by reducing the distance, or creating a reproduction of the original. Benjamin describes that as the reproductions increase; the desire to see the original decreases because the individual no longer feels the need to seek it. As a result the value of the original could appear to decrease because of the loss in interest. In photography the concept of reproduction has changed through the transition from analogue to digital; where the analogue print has a longer, consecutive process of reproduction and an original negative, the digital image is fluid and can be reproduced in an instant, with no indication as to what constitutes as ‘the original’. The ease of reproduction and the capacity to search and obtain images through Internet search engines and social media has perhaps contributed to a devaluation of the image which is also encouraged by the hacker culture. The digital image instead of remaining as a photograph, has been characterised as just information and in the digital age there is a expected entitlement to free information. For the photojournalist, despite the capacity of digital technology to narrative effectively it means that there is the constant danger of their work being devalued because of the nature of the digital image and the dynamic of the mass image culture. Perhaps this is why there has been a revival in film photography, because the photographer feels a sense of value and aura in the analogue print that has been lost in the digital.

The mass image culture is a trend brought about by the transition from analogue to digital, it has facilitated the citizen to explore a new medium of self-expression using their networked camera device however it has also enabled individuals to exploit it. The apparent loss of aura and the fluctuating nature of the digital image has become a challenge to the photojournalist as their work is under threat from devaluation due to reproduction. In addition to this, the photojournalist is threatened by the capacity of social media to act as a free image archive which could mean the professional photographer is usurped by the new experiential medium Stephen Mayes described. Overall the current state of the image is fluctuating, causing a redefinition by some practitioners to distance the analogue print away from the digital image as the properties of both are extremely different. It is unclear whether the mass image culture either compliments or destructs the current practice of photojournalism. Time will be the factor in tracking the nature of the image and the whether the mass image culture will destruct it’s value in the digital form.

 

 

Final Visual Outcome

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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.