So a long time ago, I learned to not read the comments on news stories, especially those on websites that are aggregators. But this was recommended on the NPPA Facebook page, and I couldn't resist.
Maybe I should have.
"FrederickBarnes" felt the need to share his thoughts.
"Can I take this post as an opportunity to speak about photojournalism?" he asked.
"I realize some people are just not 'artistically inclined'," he explained, "but taking photographs like the ones that regularly fill a newspaper is not exactly 'difficult.'" You're already way ahead of my reaction here, I bet.
"I realize," he said, obviously not actually realizing the depths of ignorance and irony into which he has already plunged, "not everyone is a fucking genius, but today, in the age of digital media and manipulation, its not exactly difficult to take good photographs. Understanding a few tenets can have the person of average intelligence taking photos of the technical level of any Pulitzer winner.
So really what makes a great photojournalist has little to do with the technical aspect of photography. Its much more to do with being there and having the strength to be in some places. Once more, any photographer can now take hundreds or thousands of high resolution photographs in the space of minutes. Out of that many, some would be good just by accident. Its like playing baseball and having a batting average of .001 and being lauded."
Well, it goes on, providing little more in terms of illumination.
So let me tell a little story.
When working in Washington, DC, I volunteered for the White House News Photographers Association contest committee. It was a purely selfish act, as I wanted to decipher what would be the most clever method to win prizes. (There is with all contests in photojournalism a continuing myth of how to strategically win through clever use of categories or trendy photographic techniques or whatever.) I never came up with a system, but I did happen to coincidentally be working the year that Carol Guzy shot her Pulitzer-winning photo of a Marine in Haiti.
It's a helluva' picture, and there's no denying she deserved all the prizes she got for it. (She cleaned up in the WHNPA contest too.) But here's the thing: the US deployment of troops to Haiti that year was the story, and a lot of press covered it. The small riot that brought the Marines out into the street that day got everyone's attention, so there was a crowd of photographers around that Marine, and because I was on the committee and sorting the entries, I got to see all the pictures that everyone thought were "just as good" as Carol's.
They were wrong.
They were wrong because it took more than just being present. You not only had to figure out what was going on around you (as apposed to sitting in Port au Prince airport or some other part of town) and get there, but then position yourself in the right place (a lot of the losers were off to one side or another, missing the dramatic composition of the arms reaching out directly towards the camera), and finally hit the button at the right moment. Banging away with an iPhone just won't hack it.
Okay, I've posted on this way too many times now, and I'll let this subject rest for a while. But "FrederickBarnes" so perfectly articulated the thundering idiocy that results in acts like dismissing the entire Sun-Times photo department that ... well, I just couldn't let it go.