No matter what you talk about in life there seems to be a scale: left to right, top to bottom, right to wrong. I can now add a new one….journalism to design. These are the two ends of the scale that I exist in as a photographer. At one extreme my work is pure journalism and at the other it’s little more than eye candy.
The pressures that I feel when I’m out working come from both directions, and both sets of pressures come from the newspaper. My instincts are clearly those of a news photographer, but more and more I find that my work is required, judged and edited by designers. This makes me nervous because they wouldn’t ever consider meddling with the written journalism and I sometimes find my pictures being selected on the basis of how well they add to the graphical feel of the page.
I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for this attitude to pictures in lifestyle magazines, but the success of those magazines has meant that attitude spilling over into newspapers. Daily and weekly papers have always been dominated by the written word and photographs have always had to struggle for their place as an integral part of the journalism. I am fairly convinced that no significant newspaper has ever had a photographer as it’s editor, so it isn’t surprising that words dominate.
The constant changes in “who does what” inside newspapers has lead to the appointment of more and more designers who seem to have become very influential, not only in a design sense but in a more general editorial way too. Photographers are being sidelined by yet another group of workers.
Going back to my left to right argument, there are pages within a newspaper that are predominantly news and there are pages that are rightly about lifestyle. I have no problem with this except where the emphasis becomes blurred and decisions about photographs are made because they make the page look good on pages where the journalistic content should be king. Editorial photography is a far wider field than news photography and I want to be able to shoot in a wide range of styles to suit the whole spectrum, but more and more of my colleagues here in London are feeling the pressure to shoot in a softer, more feature based style all of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I think that great photography is great photography no matter why the pictures were taken and no matter where they are intended to go…but…the hijacking of news pages by people with anything other than journalism in their thoughts has to be resisted.
I strongly believe in giving designers and layout artists greater flexibility so I hope that everyone will realise that I want to meet “the enemy” halfway and not just sit sniping on the sidelines. I just get very depressed when I hear designers and layout people talking about photographs, good photographs as so much “window dressing”. The answer? Appoint more picture literate people to senior positions on newspapers, treat news photography with due respect and never allow photography to become just another element of design