A mission statement or two

Yesterday morning, The BBC presenter and former Economics Editor Evan Davis was sharing his approach to interviewing senior business people. He said that he wanted to relax them, tempt them into talking more openly and frankly than they might want to and because so few of them are media professionals he has a form of words that he uses to let them know what his role is. He says to them “I’m not here to make you look stupid but if you decide to make yourself look stupid it isn’t my job to stop you”. That, my friends, should be the mission statement of every editorial and news photographer working right across the world. And that got me thinking about some equally succinct statements for other kinds of photography and that in turn got me thinking about definitions of types of photography.

“I’m not here to make you look stupid but if you decide to make yourself look stupid it isn’t my job to stop you”. – Evan Davis

Thanks to the verbal clarity and dexterity of Evan Davis we have news and editorial photographers pretty much covered and the next category of photographers that I wanted to think about was PR photographers. For me this comes next for two reasons: firstly that I do quite a bit of PR work myself and also because so many of the good PR photographers here in the UK have a background as press and editorial photographers. The role of the PR photographer is to shoot editorial style images that show their client in a positive light. I don’t have the same ability with words that a senior BBC journalist does but I came up with the following:

“I’m here to help make you and your business look good by concentrating on the positives and ignoring the negatives.”

The cynic in me wanted to go with “he who pays the piper call the tune” but PR photography done well is a lot more than just pointing the camera where you are told and cashing the cheque. Next in line in both my life and in the photography that I do is commercial work. I guess that this differs from PR not so much in what I shoot but for where the pictures end up which is mostly in brochures, company reports and on their websites.

“I’m here to shoot the pictures that you want in the way that you want me to shoot them and to add my own input in achieving the right images”.

This process could go on and on and I have been trying to think of a mission statement for the paparazzi but the truth is I’m not actually sure what they do and why they do it – and I’m pretty sure that some of them are in the same boat. The best and most successful paps know exactly what they are about and that’s why they get paid the big money for the right pictures. My final thoughts on these definitions and mission statements goes to the names given to themselves by wedding photographers and which of the three mission statements above applies to them. I have something of a problem with “wedding photojournalist” because, for me a photojournalist is there to record events and to help tell the story to the wider world – warts and all. It’s those last three words that I cannot believe any wedding photographer can truly sign up to. Your client is normally the bride and groom or at least a close friend or relative of theirs and I’m pretty sure that they would not be happy for every single element of the big day to be recorded and published. I have no issues with the phrases “documentary style photography” or shooting in a “photojournalistic style” but can a wedding photographer really be a detached observer and recorder of events? Please don’t get me wrong here, I have the utmost respect and admiration for the best wedding photographers who have broken with the wooden and formulaic styles that were around when I and most of my friends were getting married. The quality and volume of the work that they produce in such demanding and unrepeatable situations is amazing but I really don’t like the hijacking of the title photojournalist for what is, essentially, very good PR.

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