Are you one of the crowd?

“But the recent failure of crowd-sourced news photos of Hurricane Sandy, and the shortage of coverage of other climate change-fueled disasters around the world, demonstrate how far we are from truly democratizing the medium of photography. Photographers worry that the lowering of technological barriers means “everyone’s a photographer now,” but in fact, the number of people who can take and share news photos is still limited by economics, infrastructure and geography.

Photos—good ones —can drive news coverage. But it’s hard to say for sure that we’d know more about how people are coping in Haiti or Cuba or Nigeria if everyone in those countries had a smartphones and Instagram accounts. Good photos take enterprise and curiousity—more photos of fallen trees aren’t enough to get American editors and readers to shed their blinkered focus on news from the developed world. But given the economics of newsgathering now, the media is unlikely to restore their budgets for foreign bureaus or overseas reporting. So who’s left to provide insights on the lives of people far from media centers?”

A thought-provoking read about citizen journalism on PDN. (and follow the links, some compelling material there too).

  • Thanks for this John. Only the other day I was commenting on how the newspapers here were full of the “Sandy effect” on New York, but I hadn’t seen any real coverage of its effects on Cuba and Haiti. Some very good points made in the article.

    • Yes I was wandering about the web looking for some caribbean coverage too but there was precious little to be found. Yes it’s a good piece. I hope more people find it.

  • Olivier Laurent

    But is it really the failure of photographers or in this particular case the failure of photo editors who didn’t commission the right photographers or did so with the wrong set of instructions?

    • Thanks for commenting Olivier. I’ve seen each of these ‘suggestions’ made on different blogs. In truth it’s probably a mix of various factors. I think we’re still too low down on the learning curve in all of this, and that perhaps expectations were too high that ‘citizen journalists’ would rise to the challenge of delivering precise and appropriate content. Ken Jarecke took a lot of flak for sticking his head above the parapet and saying this, but I think he was right in many respects.

      Pete Brook has an insightful interview with Stephen Mayes on Wired today, ‘Photographs Are No Longer Things, They’re Experiences’, and the use of social media and image sharing.

      Maybe the problem with Sandy was precisely that, that the ‘citizen journalists’ mistook their personal ‘observation’ and experience as having some wider resonance, when in fact it was too parochial and did not have the kernel of ‘universality’ that could connect what they were seeing to onlookers. Too much looking out to ‘the storm’ and too little reflection upon the effect the storm was having on people.

      The people taking the pictures were there, living the experience, so they showed what they could see, and that was trees down, floating cars and destruction.

      Ken said this:

      “We don’t need more than one picture of a floating car, instead we got dozens. We don’t need to see point pictures, as if you’re documenting a crime scene or making pictures for an insurance company.

      All we need is people.”

      And I think he was right.

  • Lots to be said on this topic, but where a universal image was once key in the context of a single article or point of coverage, now the images that are being shared by people (citizen journalist is a terrible term) are directly traced to the person sharing the image.

    I think that our historic consumption for photography has driven the need for the universal image, the photo journalist composition that allows the image to exist as a anonymous voyeuristic beacon of reality.

    The article by Stephen Mayes is slightly different to my own belief, that photographs are no longer experiences, they’re of experiences. Photographs have traditionally been an experience, but now the images are not created for consumption but simply from observation. These images are not experiences, they’re of experiences.

    As for filtering the photographs available from people with Instagram, this was completed in real time during the storm by Misho Baranovic and some others. What it certainly revealed is that a connected disaster zone will produce significant volume of images, of varying quality: http://mobilephotogroup.com/blog/editorial/hurricane-sandy-live-curated-feed-of-instagram-photos-on-the-themobilephoto-blog/

    You can read about Misho’s experiences with curating real time imagery here: http://connect.dpreview.com/post/0914189863/tracking-hurricane-sandy-on-instagram

    • Thanks Oliver for your considered response.

      “Photographs have traditionally been an experience, but now the images are not created for consumption but simply from observation. These images are not experiences, they’re of experiences.”

      I think you make a key point here, and you certainly articulate it more succinctly than I did in my previous comment.

      Describing these images as being “of experiences” is (certainly in my mind) not to diminish their value nor accuracy, simply to draw a distinction between them and formal ‘journalistic’ work. Both have their place, both communicate, but it’s vital that consumers appreciate what makes each different.

      Thanks for the links.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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