Photojournalism: Redefining Reality?

There's an interesting debate going on over at PDNPulse regarding "stylized photojournalism," which essentially involves the application of special effects to news photographs to "enhance" them or to emphasize a particular point of view.

The debate is between purists who tend to believe that the camera should be used to capture newsworthy scenes without any additional manipulations, and those who feel that post-processing of news photos is a legitimate journalistic technique that will help the observer better understand the implications of the scene in question.

This is really just an extension of the ongoing debate over whether journalists should be bringing agendas into their reportage, and if you believe that there's no place for this, then you'll side with the purists. And that's the end of the spectrum I tend to gravitate toward, but not unequivocally.

The problem with photojournalism is that it can never absolutely reflect reality (reality being defined [by me] as what could be observed by the average human being if he was present at the event being recorded). Even the most seemingly straightforward photo captures an instant in time, inevitably breaking the overall context of the scene; life isn't a series of discrete events, it's a continuous ever-changing stream.

In addition, the vast majority of photographs involve cropping the scene - removing portions from the photograph that the naked eye of the human observer would otherwise perceive. Again, this inevitable cropping removes context. It's perhaps not significant, but we don't know, do we, because we're relying on what the photographer chose to show us.

The arguments of the purists are a slippery slope. Should the photojournalist completely dispense with a shortened depth of field? The human eye certainly doesn't see things that way. What about sharpening or improving contrast or color saturation? Are black-and-white photographs taboo?

I understand the point the purists are trying to make: techniques that make a photograph communicate a message that's different than the actual scene hurt the credibility of photojournalism. But figuring out where to draw the line is something that's hard to bring into focus (no pun intended).


Being a very amateur photographer, one of the things that glares at me from most of the photos I take is that they are NOT what I saw at the time. Part of this is because my brain can filter out what I do not want to see, ie, the power lines in that gorgeous landscape.

That is also the power of photography. The lens sees all and the film or digital card records it all. A photograph allows us to see things we easily filter out in real time.

A photo doesn't always capture mood, but the mood might be the story in some cases. Sometimes it's the mood of the photographer, others it's the mood of the subject as perceived by the photographer. And that's the rub -- which mood is being presented?

Both are valid viewpoints, but the photographer needs somehow to convey which is being presented.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on March 25, 2010 9:59 PM.

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