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Photojournalism is a form of art that is represented through photography. Photojournalism creates an image so that the image can tell us a story of what is happening to those who are being captured within the photograph. Photojournalism can be and is defined by three major qualifications in art and in the respect of the photograph. The first qualification of photojournalism is that the photograph must be represented as timeliness, so all of the photographs have to be in some correlation to events that have recently occurred within society. The next defining quality of the photographs that is being represented in photojournalism is that of objectivity, objectivity is when an event is fairly and accurately being represented through not only how it is being seen but also by how it is being perceived by the viewer of the photograph. The third and final way in which photojournalism is defined is by the narrative of the photograph, which means that the image and the elements of the photograph are being represented correctly to the viewers of the photograph that was taken. (“Wikipedia” Photojournalism)
Before the nineteenth century it was rare for there to be illustrations or photographs within a newspaper or a magazine. Photography is what has allowed us as a society to witness and know what is happening within our world, even though there are times that it is hard to see it is information that is important to know because they are actual occurrences in peoples' lives.
The civil war was the first major historical event that was captured on film by photographers. The photographers and crews stood on the battle field next to the solders. The photographers witnessed and experienced the events that they captured on film each day, so that they could show the world the events of the war.
Even though photojournalism is that of great accuracy and novelty not much of this form of artwork was sold in the beginning of the appearance of this form of art work. There are three major reasons that this form of art work was not sold. The first reason in the beginning was because of the state of the art photography made the pieces of art highly overpriced. The next reason was that the reproduction of photographs on newsprint did not come until the late 1900s, because of this photojournalists often copied their art work into drawings and those drawings are often translated into woodcuts before they even appear in the newspapers. The final reason was that the American public was not quite ready for the brutality or the reality of what was really happening in the world, because photojournalism began in the time of the civil war.
In many ways they were right the American people are still not comfortable with photojournalism because it is still one of the biggest ethical issues in the media in today's society. Ethics in photojournalism is an ethical and controversial issue for those who are printing the paper as well as those who are reading the paper. Photojournalism is so controversial because it is portraying actual events that are occurring throughout history and today. The Photographs that are in newspapers and on newscasts are often a cause of outrage in the viewers after they view the often intense photographs. It is not only the photographs of was that outrage and horrify the viewers of photojournalism the photographs of death are often considered to be too gruesome and violent for everyday viewing even though it is an everyday event. This is probably because they are events that individuals do not want to admit are occurring throughout the world today. Many individuals believe that such photographs can be disrespectful to the family of the deceased because it is displaying their lives at the end even though they may have died a horrific and gruesome death. This is why today there are many guidelines that are to be followed by the photojournalist that are photographing events to display to the society, in order to not upset the society as a whole.
There are many photojournalists that do not feel the same way however, one such individual is Nora Ephron. Ephron feels as though even that of a disturbing photograph should be displayed and should be printed because it is what is truly occurring within the real world and that of a real life situation for the individuals that are being displayed within the photograph, she feels as though all of their stories should be told no matter how awful they may seem. She feels as though the meanings of what is trying to be told with the photographs are better displaying what is happening through the photographs, which she considers to be much more powerful and influential than that of the written word. In her essay, “The Boston Photographs,” Nora Ehpron talks about how a nineteen-year-old, Diana Bryant, was killed by falling from a fire escape trying to escape from a burning five-story brick apartment house on Marlborough Street in the Black Bay section of Boston (202). According to Charles Seib, the former editor of the Washington Star and the Post's ombudsman at the time that the photographs were published, “The Boston Photographs” “was the largest reaction to a published item that I have experienced in the eight months as the Post's ombudsman (Ephron 203).
Nora Ephron seems to feel as though photographs of death are unavoidable in the telling of a story, no matter how difficult they may be to see. Ephron says that “Death seems to be one of life's main events” (204), which is completely true; there is no way that anyone can avoid death. It is a fact of life; no one lives forever. Ephron says that it is irresponsible and inaccurate if a newspaper fails to show it or if the photographs are only shown when it is of a large scale.
Many photographers wonder if they should print the pictures of the battle fields, even though that is what a war is about (Ephron 204). Ephron says that many pictures deserve to be printed, because they are great pictures of something that happened. They are disturbing to a reader because they should be; this is because photojournalism is usually more powerful then the actual written journalism.
The world today is much different than that of our grandparents and parents. We are able to access any information that we want with the push of a button. At the same time, though, it is normal for us to see something that upsets us or makes us sad. Honestly, we often flip through the television channels, see something that we do not want to see, and keep changing the channels until we find something that will make us feel better. Sontag says that it is probably not true that people are responding less, it may just seem that way. “Neither is the photograph supposed to repair our ignorance about the history and causes of the suffering it picks out and frames. Such images cannot be more than an invitation to pay attention, to reflect, to learn, to examine the realization of mass suffering offered by established powers (Sontag 392).”
Photojournalism is an art which is of great importance of the world today however because it is a demonstration of what it is that we should be seeing of what is happening within our societies and our world. It is best that we know what is occurring because if we do not we are not ignorant to the happenings of society. We are blind often times to what is happening and we are ignorant to the sufferings of others and we do not see therefore we do not believe that the pain is occurring without the photographs we would see the world merely through our own eyes, which is unrealistic. We are a people that believes in what we see therefore when we are shown pictures of what is happening in the world we become more sympathetic to their situations and allow ourselves to feel for them. We no longer hear their stories and say that it is never going to happen we see it and realize that it could happen and it is happening right now in the world, which is what causes people to have empathy for one another.
The decision to print pictures of a violent nature is one of the most difficult ethical issues that newspapers face, and when it comes down to it the issue is one that has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The decision of whether or not a picture should be printed is completely up to the editor of the newspaper printing the story. Public opinion is often louder when they feel a photograph is unethical; even though the public wants the truth, they do not necessarily want to know the whole truth of the matter. Both Ephron and Sontag believe that even if the pictures are difficult to look at, they should be published so that readers can know the whole truth. I agree: that people need to know what is really happening in the world, so the photographs should be published.
Ephron, Nora. “The Boston Photographs.” Convergences. Boston, New York: Bedford/St.Martin's, 2005. 200-205.
“Photojournalism.” Wikipedia. 22 March 2008
Sontag, Susan. “Watching Suffering from a Distance.” Convergences. Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005. 391-393.