or

This is a really interesting segment from a press conference given by the photographer William Klein at the Visa Pour L’image festival. Well done Olivier Laurent of BJP for capturing it.

WahJnr responds with his usual eloquence and intelligence below. I believe his thoughts are essential reading for all photojournalists.

WahJnr

This is the failure of education, ideology and intellect. This is why the industry fails to attract capital from the outside world. This is why the photographic agencies run by the perpetuators of this ideological paradigm will not be the centre of the revolution that is coming.

When I say revolution, I do not mean technological or some sort of violent overthrow based on the misery of the masses. It is through research and the application of a more self aware ideology where the public are not patronised and  engaged instead.

Remove this layer of moral superiority within the ivory towers of the art, gallery, academic, photographic and agency world free from the scrutiny of the public and the audience might start listening….

This is a strong statement but lets ask a few questions:-

1. Do the public know that there is suffering in the world?

2. Do people know disease exists in the world?

3. Do the public believe in the visions of Africa given by the photographic world as fair?

4. Do the public understand that capitalism is not perfect?

5. Do the public know that disease kills the poor more than the rich?

6. Do the public understand that war has some pretty brutal and visceral acts on the edge of human behaviour?

I think the answer to all of these, is a resounding “YES”. Next question is to ask “What value is being added here by photojournalism?”

I took a friend to some shows to see their responses to the work being shown by an aid agency who hired an agency photojournalist. It became apparent that the aid agency was staffed with the white western democratic and my friend just happened to be black western democratic, first generation British, universally educated and a high ranking professional.

What can we say about the emotions of the person I took to the show?

How do we think he felt about a series of images of western aid agencies going into a black community to help those who cannot help themselves? The individual was a first generation african descent professional who cares deeply about his country and personal identity. How did he feel to be surrounded by the audience looking at the images saying “How terrible, we must help these poor people who cannot help themselves”.

The same can be said of my eastern european friend who nearly every time there is a photo story about eastern european people that they see, they are invariably poor and distressed. Is this helping the understanding of a whole demographic dealing with a post communist/pre capitalist history trying to move forward? They reel with anger and rage as all they are doing is enforcing stereotypes or more importantly enforcing the status quo. They make it harder for this person to be seen as an individual. Sure it looks good but is that enough?

Every time I see a portrait of China, it never does anything to promote understanding. They claim to show awareness but of what? That a developing country can sometimes get it wrong during times of industrialisation? Coal is bad for the environment? Large factories are depersonalising? Workers in mass producing factories do not get the luxury of sitting in their photo agency offices looking at negatives and discussing the politics of representation. They need to feed their kids. Do they think the factories in Texas employing cheap labour for profit look any different?

In all of the stories above, just look at trip advisor and the public comments pages. Look at how many people have been to parts of the world that photojournalists have been to and read their world views.

I see many attempts at the agencies to change the way they communicate – using social networking, new formats, new presentational strategies for their photographers but I once had a conversation with a think tank who collaborated with a big name in photojournalist to promote their work on the subject of TB.

“Their way of looking at the world is dead, no matter what they try. The world has moved on”

This is why the industry fails to attract enough private capital to move forward. People out there care. Look at the Haiti response, the Tsunami, a million people marching against the Iraq war in London… people care.

Individualising stories to make a point is one method of provoking the emotive response of giving. That has got conventional and the public are too sophisticated in the internet era to fall for it as much as they used to. Look at the response to the devastation in Pakistan and the response in the world. Rightly and wrongly, people have made up their minds and the scale of giving has been reduced.

Look at the successful work out there… Salgado avoided stereotyping but being so broad as to reveal the structures of globalisation beyond the imagery in his frames. He avoided the usual accusations of colonialism by the depth of his understanding and contextualisation. Paulo Woods’ work in Iran is broad enough to cover many demographics so the public get a bigger picture without suffering. Susan Meiselas, Eugene Richards, Nan Goldin, and Jonas Bendiksen all offer hope in their sensitivity and intelligence but they are the minority.

Photojournalism has fallen in love with itself and it is wondering why the public does not follow. Listen at how photojournalists provide an opinion online over their own work in voice overs and ask “What value does that add to me”. Why has the cult of the individual taken over?

It is simple – the cult of personality works better in a world outside of market scrutiny where capital is allocated by human decision making. Get close to the decision makers and you’ll get aid. Get close to the grant givers and you get funds for your shoot. Make them feel personally guilty and they will be compelled to act and donate grants.

People who are employed to give out grants work on the basis of their decision making ability and can only give to people they know to the best of their ability. An so they should – this is no criticism of them at all. Yet there is no point being a brilliant photojournalist who has just graduated these days as everyone is looking after their own economic interest in order to get close to these grant givers.

In business, this is called “punitive barriers to entry” leading to stress and emotional regret and a massive brain and talent drain as people leave disillusioned. The industry gets smaller. Ask any central banker would they prefer protectionism or competition?

Ask any aspiring photographer on the outside what it is like to get in? Ask them do they trust the decision making of that industry. Look at the demographics high up in those agencies.

There is a rush for the creation of stars online as agencies streamline their product to match their hits recorded on their own websites. This is dangerous as it is no surprise that want-to-be-photojournalists go to an agency site to see how others have become stars, in order to produce work good enough to get in themselves. Is this true? Ask how many talks are given by photographers that are attended by non-photographers.

I look at the protectionism present in the corporate actions of some of these agencies and ask if this matches their high moral standards. I have come across some awful behaviours from organisations presenting themselves on the moral high ground in order to protect their own interests. And I am not trying to be a photographer!

This is suicide.

Are they going to reach new audiences in a significant enough way to help the graduating generation of photographers? Or are they just trying to maximise the income of their own “stars” that will inevitably end up in ever decreasing amounts of social significance as the outside world ask “Why am I looking at this”.

Why would anybody want to fund the continuation of this business model and a dependency culture that incentivises these behaviours? The smart money is going elsewhere because it works better.

It goes all they way back to the headline “shanty towns without context”. Would any of us want to go to the ill, poor and displaced of the world and stare into their lives in order to feel bad about it? Maybe it is these agency photographers who get a buzz out of being around suffering. It is like laughing at someone who trips on a banana skin relishing the fact that is was not me.

I would rather know what is being done, why it happens and the context, context, context… I want to learn something new and see what is being done.

As usual, I stereotype the bad to make an objective structural point effectively. There is a huge amount of greatness out there and the public needs to be engaged. Not just with clever online technologies but with the power of progressive ideas that people can buy into. This can be done but not from within – it has to come from the outside as the industry has had decades to come up with something new and it has not.


duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

More articles from duckrabbit

  • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/davidwhite/ David White, photographer

    “Exultation in this accumulation of misery”

    He is unfortunately absolutely bang on.

    And why doesn’t the girl hiding behind the table put the mic down?

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      I was thinking exactly the same David … she needs to come on the training!

      • Olivier Laurent

        This poor RFI reporter had to hold her mic the entire time because the acoustics in the room were terrible (she tried to put it on the table at first, but it caught the echo)… she held her mic for more than 40 minutes :-)

  • WahJnr

    “This is the failure of education, ideology and intellect. This is why the industry fails to attract capital from the outside world. This is why the photographic agencies run by the perpetuators of this ideological paradigm will not be the centre of the revolution that is coming.

    When I say revolution, I do not mean technological or some sort of violent overthrow based on the misery of the masses. It is through research and the application of a more self aware ideology where the public are not patronised and engaged instead.

    Remove this layer of moral superiority within the ivory towers of the art, gallery, academic, photographic and agency world free from the scrutiny of the public and the audience might start listening….

    This is a strong statement but lets ask a few questions:-

    1. Do the public know that there is suffering in the world?
    2. Do people know disease exists in the world?
    3. Do the public believe in the visions of Africa given by the photographic world as fair?
    4. Do the public understand that capitalism is not perfect?
    5. Do the public know that disease kills the poor more than the rich?
    5. Do the public understand that war has some pretty brutal and visceral acts on the edge of human behaviour?

    I think the answer to all of these, is a resounding “YES”. Next question is to ask “What value is being added here by photojournalism?”

    I took a friend to some shows to see their responses to the work being shown by an aid agency who hired an agency photojournalist. It became apparent that the aid agency was staffed with the white western democratic and my friend just happened to be black western democratic, first generation British, universally educated and a high ranking professional.

    What can we say about the emotions of the person I took to the show?

    How do we think he felt about a series of images of western aid agencies going into a black community to help those who cannot help themselves? The individual was a first generation african descent professional who cares deeply about his country and personal identity. How did he feel to be surrounded by the audience looking at the images saying “How terrible, we must help these poor people who cannot help themselves”.

    The same can be said of my eastern european friend who nearly every time there is a photo story about eastern european people that they see, they are invariably poor and distressed. Is this helping the understanding of a whole demographic dealing with a post communist/pre capitalist history trying to move forward? They reel with anger and rage as all they are doing is enforcing stereotypes or more importantly enforcing the status quo. They make it harder for this person to be seen as an individual. Sure it looks good but is that enough?

    Every time I see a portrait of China, it never does anything to promote understanding. They claim to show awareness but of what? That a developing country can sometimes get it wrong during times of industrialisation? Coal is bad for the environment? Large factories are depersonalising? Workers in mass producing factories do not get the luxury of sitting in their photo agency offices looking at negatives and discussing the politics of representation. They need to feed their kids. Do they think the factories in Texas employing cheap labour for profit look any different?

    In all of the stories above, just look at trip advisor and the public comments pages. Look at how many people have been to parts of the world that photojournalists have been to and read their world views.

    I see many attempts at the agencies to change the way they communicate – using social networking, new formats, new presentational strategies for their photographers but I once had a conversation with a think tank who collaborated with a big name in photojournalist to promote their work on the subject of TB.

    “Their way of looking at the world is dead, no matter what they try. The world has moved on”

    This is why the industry fails to attract enough private capital to move forward. People out there care. Look at the Haiti response, the Tsunami, a million people marching against the Iraq war in London… people care.

    Individualising stories to make a point is one method of provoking the emotive response of giving. That has got conventional and the public are too sophisticated in the internet era to fall for it as much as they used to. Look at the response to the devastation in Pakistan and the response in the world. Rightly and wrongly, people have made up their minds and the scale of giving has been reduced.

    Look at the successful work out there… Salgado avoided stereotyping but being so broad as to reveal the structures of globalisation beyond the imagery in his frames. He avoided the usual accusations of colonialism by the depth of his understanding and contextualisation. Paulo Woods’ work in Iran is broad enough to cover many demographics so the public get a bigger picture without suffering. Susan Meiselas, Eugene Richards, Nan Goldin, and Jonas Bendiksen all offer hope in their sensitivity and intelligence but they are the minority.

    Photojournalism has fallen in love with itself and it is wondering why the public does not follow. Listen at how photojournalists provide an opinion online over their own work in voice overs and ask “What value does that add to me”. Why has the cult of the individual taken over?

    It is simple – the cult of personality works better in a world outside of market scrutiny where capital is allocated by human decision making. Get close to the decision makers and you’ll get aid. Get close to the grant givers and you get funds for your shoot. Make them feel personally guilty and they will be compelled to act and donate grants.

    People who are employed to give out grants work on the basis of their decision making ability and can only give to people they know to the best of their ability. An so they should – this is no criticism of them at all. Yet there is no point being a brilliant photojournalist who has just graduated these days as everyone is looking after their own economic interest in order to get close to these grant givers.

    In business, this is called “punitive barriers to entry” leading to stress and emotional regret and a massive brain and talent drain as people leave disillusioned. The industry gets smaller. Ask any central banker would they prefer protectionism or competition?

    Ask any aspiring photographer on the outside what it is like to get in? Ask them do they trust the decision making of that industry. Look at the demographics high up in those agencies.

    There is a rush for the creation of stars online as agencies streamline their product to match their hits recorded on their own websites. This is dangerous as it is no surprise that want-to-be-photojournalists go to an agency site to see how others have become stars, in order to produce work good enough to get in themselves. Is this true? Ask how many talks are given by photographers that are attended by non-photographers.

    I look at the protectionism present in the corporate actions of some of these agencies and ask if this matches their high moral standards. I have come across some awful behaviours from organisations presenting themselves on the moral high ground in order to protect their own interests. And I am not trying to be a photographer!

    This is suicide.

    Are they going to reach new audiences in a significant enough way to help the graduating generation of photographers? Or are they just trying to maximise the income of their own “stars” that will inevitably end up in ever decreasing amounts of social significance as the outside world ask “Why am I looking at this”.

    Why would anybody want to fund the continuation of this business model and a dependency culture that incentivises these behaviours? The smart money is going elsewhere because it works better.

    It goes all they way back to the headline “shanty towns without context”. Would any of us want to go to the ill, poor and displaced of the world and stare into their lives in order to feel bad about it? Maybe it is these agency photographers who get a buzz out of being around suffering. It is like laughing at someone who trips on a banana skin relishing the fact that is was not me.

    I would rather know what is being done, why it happens and the context, context, context… I want to learn something new and see what is being done.

    As usual, I stereotype the bad to make an objective structural point effectively. There is a huge amount of greatness out there and the public needs to be engaged. Not just with clever online technologies but with the power of progressive ideas that people can buy into. This can be done but not from within – it has to come from the outside as the industry has had decades to come up with something new and it has not.”

    • http://www.stevesimonphoto.com Steve Simon

      WahJnr, brilliant commentary, would love to know who you are…

      • iamnolongerWahJnr

        Steve,

        Great images on your website. Thanks for your kind words. Humbled so much that I do not want who I am to get in the way of what I say.

        I fear I have revealed too much already and have learnt a lesson in discretion…

        Keep up the good work!!!

        • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

          Hey … really … I can’t see the problem in saying what so many people are thinking?

          • iamnolongerWahJnr

            I agree but I do not want it to become too personal or public.

            The establishment will defend itself to death. It always does. I write on industry blogs only because it is not good for the public to feel what you say many people feel inside the industry.

            They are already bored of facing a print being sold as a limited edition for £10,000 for example being called “journalism”. They are bored of people shouting in 24 images. They are bored of being co-erced into feeling guilty about things they do not or cannot control (unless they direct debit $20 a month).

            The last thing they need is for this structural negativity to be increased from the power of this debate.

            What is needed is clear leadership. In terms of industry PR, ethics, ideology, organisation, transparency, better processes and more importantly… fairness.

            In fact, everything the photojournalists pretend to hold dear to their hearts every time they go to the “Third World” (not what I would call them) and grabs a shot of a child who is suffering and says “this government/company needs to sort it out”.

            The industry has to get its house in order first before going out to the public. There has never been so many camera’s sold. More interest in the medium.

            The revolution is coming but it will be from the outside looking in…

  • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/davidwhite/ David White, photographer

    THANKYOU

  • Towsley

    Or simply that much “engaged” photojournalism is a self-serving, western, bourgeois consumer product. Faced with a crisis of identity and purpose many practicioners have taken the route of self-branding, a tactic most aligned with what they appear to denounce.

  • http://www.wuhan-films.com Aurélien

    Very strong ideas in here, not politically correct and that gives a real bit of fresh air in this world that needs to be shaken a little bit.
    On another note, your remark:
    “I am ethnically Chinese and every time I see a portrait of China, it never does anything to promote understanding. ” makes me wonder.
    I’d love to know what you feel and how you perceive that series:
    http://www.wuhan-films.com/photographs/wuhan-au-fil-des-jours/
    Hoping to hear from you…
    Thanks again so much for speaking your mind in such an intelligent and intellegible way, that’s the way to go!

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Thanks for your comment.

      I have the same question, I’m trying to work out what’s politically incorrect?

  • WahJnr

    Why is this politically incorrect?

  • Christine Nesbitt Hills

    You hit the nail on the head, WahJnr!
    Majority world photographers aspire to exhibit at festivals such as Perpignan instead of festivals such as Bamako and Chobi Mela. I feel we need to support spaces for our own representations of Africa instead of subscribing to the cult of worship of western photographers. Majority world photographers need to stop judging the value of their work by the values of the West.

    • iamnolongerWahJnr

      I would certainly welcome this. The great photojournalists of the East, West, North, South, Male, Female, White, Black, All of the ones in between need to be encouraged to have a say and have an opinion. Speak to different audiences in different languages. Then we can inspire real social change!

  • http://www.bitemagazine.net diederik

    I have attended quite a few openings and it has always struck me that people seem more interested in other people whose circles they want to become a part of then in other people who want to become part of their circle. I agree with what is being said here. The importance of the decision makers in this industry is, in itself, a bubble…

    • iamnolongerWahJnr

      A bubble only exists when it is bigger than it should be. This industry is as big as it deserves to be when the talent and the humanity amongst the good practitioners is there aplenty. Your economic analogy is perfect for it is the narrow business structure is reflected in the narrow work. This is a question of the business of photojournalism and this has to change.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • http://www.justinleighton.com leighton

    WahJnr
    I have been wrestling with this all day since I saw the Klein post… I used to goto Perp about 15 years ago… Not anymore… I didn’t understand what it was all about… began to really question what it is we were all looking at… ! Thank you for your post No really thank you… What and why are we doing as photographers… I’ve moved away from photojournalism many years ago… But still am a “consumer” of the stuff…
    I photographed the famine in Sudan in the 1980’s… I was shocked and surprised about the response the images got… No one wanted to publish anything around the story only the starving child shot…Not one person asked what is the context… why this is going on… Is this a man made/economic/political problem. They all assumed that that is the way it is and these people will always be in some sort of trouble and we the west can just keep sticking more and more ineffective bandaids over it… When Klein said that with most disaster come disease and Photographers… I felt guilt and relief at the same time… The photographer is not important… What s’he is reporting is… as you say Context. we need to keep asking Why.
    best JL

    • iamnolongerWahJnr

      I hope one day you come back to the industry and consume it if it can be changed for a force for good, instead of being sometimes run in the interests of the few.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • iamnolongerWahJnr
  • Jenny Lynn Walker

    IM A STORYTELLER, NOT A TERRORIST ; )

    “This is the failure of education, ideology and intellect,” writes WahJnr. I disagree. It is the result of a news-led industry that has propagated ‘a dream’ through an incentive scheme: glossy awards and celebrity. It manifests in the documentation of ‘high drama’ through ‘provocative’ single images arranged into sequences that feed Western appetites for exciting visual information. But, not always thankfully, and the work that has ‘context’ and ‘perspective’ and looks more deeply and raises questions that others fail to see – investigative pieces and contemplations – have far greater lasting value thankfully.

    But Klein really struck a chord on the matter of ‘context’. When it comes to news, this is an issue that has been seriously bothering me. When images are being transmitted from conflict zones simultaneously, lack of context can represent a very serious danger to us all. I hope we all realise this.

    Not wishing to focus exclusively on the negative (which is all to easy to do in this industry!!!), most exciting to my mind is new work that ignites action on specific issues and Michael Nichols did this at Perpignan this year! Congrats to him! He did it for green issues with his massive Redwood tree inside Eglise des Dominicains! Terrific! ‘Experiential’ in a way akin to Jonas Bendiksen’s ‘The Places We Live’. Loved it!

    I did not see or hear of any work creating power at the grass roots level. Perhaps such work appears in a different venue?? At Perpignan, we get to see many people having been photographed to raise charity (for disaster relief mainly) but how about positive stories that encourage us, as viewers, to actually feel how it feels to be in the other’s place or truly empower the people we are seeing in the imagery?

    Sincere apologies to Duckrabbit for this late addition…

    • WahJnr

      ““This is the failure of education, ideology and intellect,”….. I disagree. It is the result of a news-led industry that has propagated ‘a dream’ through an incentive scheme: glossy awards and celebrity.”

      The people want glossy and celebrity – everywhere around the world they want to be able to aspire. If you have a economically challenged life, work hard and struggle to put food on the table, then the last thing you want to do is look at other people being miserable and being made to feel guilty for being part of the problem. You want to escape. That is why some people take drugs, drink and watch hollywood blockbusters in order to escape. It certainly does not mean they should be lectured to by others further up the food chain. I know that is NOT what Jenny said but that is the problem of photojournalism without context today.

      I read all too many times (not from Jenny) on other PJ’ism forums posts blaming the people for falling into consumerism and celebrity culture as a weakness in the audience. This is lazy thinking as the world does not owe PJ’s a living. Look at http://www.epuk.org/Opinion/961/for-gods-sake-somebody-call-it and see if you feel their pain as I for one do not. Why see celebrity culture as a threat? Why let it be the excuse? Treating the audience that badly will result in them going and leaves PJ without a mass audience. PJ will end up living off grants from the rich – be it NGO’s, Art Council grants or rich people buying from galleries with plenty of time on their hands because they do not have to work for money.

      Most people who live in western democracies reside in the lower middle to working classes. If you work near minimum wage in a call centre in Scotland chasing managerial targets for a living for example, why would you want to be part of an ideology that critiques you (as agents of capitalism), guilts you for not caring (please donate £20 per month to feel better) and contemplates (I would love to be paid to stand somewhere and just contemplate what is going around me in photo’s!).

      People who are time and money scarce move on and read “Stuff” or”Grazia” magazine on the way to work to escape. So the audience and the producers of work are increasingly drawn from the narrowest of demographics taken from the Art world. I asked Elliot Erwitt for his advice for young PJ’ists and he said “Better start off rich!”.

      I am not sure what Jenny said dispels the fact that through the collective failure of the educational establishment, photojournalism is taught conventionally. Go to the LCC photojournalism show. Fantastic technical ability, great curating, beautiful framing, amazing images but content past the idea and conceptual stage? She adds more weight to the notion that the problems are fundamental.

      Look at how many people choose style over substance… the medium format large printed gallery ideology can be seen in the text that accompanies their work. Photojournalists all exploring “juxtapositions”, “paradoxes”, “faultlines of identity”, “examining spaces”… look at the book section in Arles and the book titles. This ideology has been copied so many times because students are shown it as the example of greatness as it has sold at a high price. The politics of representation are only relevant to the wealthy and students because they have the time to give in order to fall in love with that world.

      Look at slideshows with music or any 24-images-with-photographer’s-voiceover to add their personal opinion. If the public can replicate that with iPhoto or iMovie themselves, why try to sell it to the public as something valuable? Because the images are so beautiful? My Facebook friends are constantly producing fantastic images with simple DSLR’s these days stuck on Auto mode.

      Most people work to bring up the family they love doing something they do not love. How do we speak to these people in a language that the majority understand?

      This is a failure of the lecturers of photography to go beyond convention. Economically challenged photojournalists go and educate aspiring photojournalists the conventions that they know – I totally understand. Paid holidays and a occupational pension plus a stable income. They have been photographers all their lives and know nothing else so there should be no expectation that they should know more. How can they? So what kind of life experience can they draw on to change the structure of their thinking? That is why the problem is ideological too.

      Is it coincidence that Salgado was trained as an economist or that Eugene Richards was a social worker? Amazing storytellers… check out Richard’s Blue Room book for those who have not done so!

      There has not been a better time to tell stories using photographs and reach a mass audience. The opportunity to innovate has never been greater and as an industry falls and gets smaller in ever decreasing circles, there has never been a better time to take a risk and work differently. Think, work, narrate and show innovation is what I hope the new graduates are being told.

      The above is not a critique but an affirmation of a wonderful medium that is ready for something new and exciting from a new generation brought up in this globalised, information saturated, multimedia world full of people who have travelled afar and seen for themselves what other places are like.

      I would love to be graduating today in photojournalism!!!

  • http://www.lisahogben.com Lisa Hogben

    Actually, I also do not agree with ‘IamnolongerWahJr’ on a number of points. And while well written there is a certain pomposity in ‘IamnolongerWahJr”s response that is difficult to hide.

    If there is a problem in the ethical structures of photojournalism it is because as, Klein and Jenny Lynn Walker have correctly pointed out, there is no longer ‘context’ for the story. Everyone has a story and that story has begun well before any photojournalist rocks up in a crisis situation or otherwise. It is in fact the story of survival, prejudice, economic imperatives, misadventure, joy, love and humanity. We are human creatures together and of course if we are to tell our stories properly we must feel that humanity, for good or ill, in every person we ever point our cameras at.

    To me its no wonder Don McCullin went off and photographed landscapes.

    The ideology that ‘WahJr’ (who was not at that point ‘Iamnolonger…’ but simply ‘WahJr’) wishes that existed in photojournalism is… what exactly?

    He makes mention of the cult of celebrity in photojournalism and how the rest of the world understands the pain and suffering of the suffering world. He derides the current economic models and the insensitivities of photojournalists yet I am not seeing anything new brought to this debate. The role of dominant western photographic tastes have been explored many times on online forums.

    So what is it that we are looking for in an industry that was set up to show pictures of things that happen?

    Why is there so much wringing of hands and beating of chests and the constant searching for meaning in photography in an otherwise existentialist world?

    It is maybe because EVERYONE who picks up a camera thinks that they have the ability to take a ‘world changing’ photograph? Or that every blogger thinks that they have the ability to write, even though that have nothing to say?

    For me the self examination is useless unless some form of creation evanesces from the constant bubble of hot air and the good honest mud of hard work. And that is not sitting around and no matter how eloquently, bitching about the state of the industry without bringing something new to the table.

    If I was to reorder this industry I would make it mandatory that young photographers did one of two things. Work as an orderly in a home for elderly people for at least several years scrubbing toilets and wiping bottoms before even touching a camera or work as a checkout chick at a supermarket chain store. I can highly recommend the first as the best training you will ever receive as a photojournalist, I know because its how I paid my way through art school.

    What about you ‘WahJr’? Got any similar recommendations?

    • iamnolongerWahJnr

      Pompus? This is a blog. I write at the end that I stereotype the bad in order to make a point and apologised for that at the end of my article.

      There are alternatives of course and you are right that it is up to those who do not like what they see in order to offer something new. But this is business and I have already had one the biggest names in US photojournalism steal my ideas to help young photographers despite a board member signing a 2 year confidentiality agreement. A company that makes a virtue out of the integrity of their journalism so you will forgive me for not being forward in providing an alternative. Their reputation is linked to the industries such is their size so I am not going to have a public fight and drag down this industry but it is an example of how unlikable this industry is.

      It is not up to me to give anybody else any solutions – now that would be pompus!

      There will be new forms of photojournalism and new ways to tell stories. My organisation will do it one way and others will try their own. This is the inevitable law of market competition and the public will decide. The clues are there in what we are trying not to be.

      I stand by what I say, it is about time that the public were engaged and not just grant givers and it is about time the democratic structures of effective capitalism replace the personal discretion of the NGO world. The work will then focus on engaging the right people and start building an audience.

      If I was to re-order the industry, I would demand that the industry does not make profit from the supply side of the industry and deal with demand. This cannibalises the market for photojournalism by selling hope to graduates who pay money for portfolio reviews, thousands of dollars to study an MA that has no prospect of income, show work in magazines without payed a dime, encourage photojournalism students to buy entry into competitions that are judged by the i-made-it-years-ago-experts. All this produces a flow of income from the want-to-be’s into the industry and gives it to the already-made-it people.

      The concentration of power is not an editorial but economic structure that makes money of those wanting to be PJ’ists and reduces the ability for new PJ’s to come up with enough level’s of investment to create new forms of narratives themselves. So the viscous circle continues and nothing changes.

      I would ban PJ’ists from getting income before shooting for grant givers. I would shift all the income to the back end of a project so the responsibility of raising income for work is done at the end and as a percentage of the success. That is the only clue to what I am building I am willing to give. Put that into place and the public might trust PJ’ism again as taking $30,000 from an NGO to shoot misery without having to think about the audience is ideologically regressive and a hypocrisy I am not willing to defend. I would also ask NGO’s to hire a new graduate for every established PJ’ist they hire. I would challenge the industry of PJ to generate their own value.

      “If I was to reorder this industry I would make it mandatory that young photographers did one of two things. Work as an orderly in a home for elderly people for at least several years scrubbing toilets and wiping bottoms before even touching a camera or work as a checkout chick at a supermarket chain store. I can highly recommend the first as the best training you will ever receive as a photojournalist, I know because its how I paid my way through art school.”

      I painted local council staircases ridden with urine and rubbish to get through school. I got a grant too because I can from a relatively poor background but that did not make me a better photojournalist. In fact, I am not a photojournalist. Cartier Bresson was born rich. That did not make him less of a photojournalist. Salgado was also relatively rich as a coffee economist. Given the scope of their work, I doubt they did anything but work hard. I am not sure that this is the problem as it does not solve the current supply/demand dynamics of the industry.

      It is not my responsibility to tell people what to do and I apologise if that is the impression that you got. Or in fact that you stated that you got nothing from my posts or were personally offended. I assure you that this was not the intention and I do not want to offend anybody.

      I hope that my organisation can be a catalyst for real positive change. Some of those who read me will be defensive and take offence. I would simply ask them “What are you defending?” and “Why?”

  • http://www.lisahogben.com Lisa Hogben

    IamnolongerWahJr all I can say in reply is “What are you actually promoting?” and “Why?”

    You refer to lots of amorphous concepts about photojournalism, which honestly don’t offend me, they just confuse me.

    You don’t have a real name and you make lots of statements that can’t be corroborated about high level meetings with people who have stolen your ideas.

    I have to say I find these kind of blog entries really annoying because all you are offering to the debate (again) on the future of photojournalism is well.. nothing but smoke and mirrors. If a company has stolen your ideas why did you approach that company in a position where they would be able to do that? I would imagine that you thought you were going to get something out of the encounter and instead you got a kick in the bum for being stupid and not indemnifying yourself adequately.

    This is business afterall, you say- but your suggestions on new economic models don’t make any sense to me and you seemed to totally miss the point about my training concept for the future content providers in making them spend some time with human beings in need.

    I don’t care where anyone comes from, its the colour of their heart I am interested in. So whether you had to get up at three oclock in the morning to scrub a dunny or not is irrelevant to me, as it would be for you, its what you do with that experience that counts.

    That is my point. What actually is yours?

  • WahJnr

    My point = Anybody that works to shoot “minorities” or the “poor” in 24 images or less needs to change the way they work in order to build a better relationship with their audiences.

    Certainly anybody who thinks that selling “my-unique-personal-vision-of-the-world-in-not-more-than-24 images” is taking a big gamble that they are truly special people. I am most certainly not that special yet I do understand business and there is a big gap in this industry for people who understand how good business works.

    Photo editors commissioning the conventional types of work that I outline as regressive have to see that it is not working for anybody anymore – not for the magazines, not for photojournalists and certainly not for modern day internet aware audiences. That lack of change is not good business and produces bad behaviours as a result as people fight for a living. How much do Time magazine pay? And The Sunday Times in the UK? Have they changed much in 20 years? They want to support the industry but how have they changed?

    This message will not be for everyone and many will defend the not-more-than-24 images type editorial of “foreign cultures” for a domestic audience or indeed, the “look at the dispossessed sensitively” stories. Any Eugene Richards body of work certainly could not be summed up in that way I would love to have just 1% of his talent. I am sure it will have a place in the future somewhere but the world has largely moved on to the “what is being done about it” age of information.

    I have tried to give structural reasons why this has become the way of doing things and I will accept people will accuse me of much worse than “annoying” or “stupid” in order to have the debate as I believe it is an important one to have.

    I come from the business world so I use concepts such as supply/demand dynamics, audiences and engagement, market share and size, generating social value and most importantly how to convert that into a sustainable income for the many and not just the few. I am happy to speak about these conceptually as in business, a great idea is not good enough on its own. It’s all about execution, execution, and execution.

    Thank you for your input.