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A Major Turning Point

What we in photojournalism are heading towards, and what we desperately need, is a hybrid of amateur and professional photography, with much overlap between the two groups (there are amateur/professionals as well as professional/amateurs). It is up to us now to figure out how this hybrid can work most effectively while attempting both to regain some credibility in the eyes of a skeptical public and to reinvigorate the professional corps of photographers who are, at this moment, somewhat frustrated and at times cynical.

It is, in my opinion, an amazing opportunity to reformulate strategies of image capture and distribution, with a strong emphasis throughout on establishing context and calling on the expertise of the readership. (And I appreciate greatly the provocative comments by Brian and Sean made in response to the previous post which have in turn stimulated this post.)

One of the unremarked aspects of the imagery being made in this Iranian revolution is how much depends upon sophisticated and serious readers to interpret what they are seeing. Imagery by amateurs taken on the fly and under duress does not come with the usual paternalistic captions that one sees in the conventional media, reducing enormous complexity in an image to a simple sentence. Readers of these photographs can no longer be treated as if they are simpletons (in fact they may often know more about what is going on than mass media editors), nor can events be reduced to the equivalent of sporting matches with clear winners and loners. The pictures from Iran, and from elsewhere throughout the world, can no longer be simplified to the point where their multiple meanings are rendered irrelevant or considered too taxing to contemplate.

It’s this current work by Iranian amateurs that has highlighted the power of photography not only as witness, but also as interlocutor. Photography answers, providing information, but just as importantly it asks questions. Photographers, professional or amateur, have never known all that can be known about the situations they photograph. They have always intuited meanings, and also have been surprised by what the camera has recorded.

These photographs coming from Iran and elsewhere need us, the readers, to collaborate more actively than ever before in forging their meanings. And we readers need help from each other in interpreting them as well, something that the Internet is particularly good at providing when readers act as responsibly as the photographers in the streets.

And then we arrive at, finally, Barthes’ “active reader.”


  1. Cazalis wrote:

    As someone who managed to experience the events live even after the foreign press left, I was just as deeply concerned as as enthused to see the participation of civic journalism. However as you mention there were many times when I saw images online that were not of the day mentioned.

    Iran is particularly important because the distribution of unverifiable images was so often of no significant importance to the people as was letting the world know that crimes were being committed, people abducted (one of the foremost reasons everyone was filming, in case a loved one was captured) and continued to be committed after the media had left.

    Yet, this is just as a distorted view as the government itself can do. This may sound exaggerated but the reality and their vision of things in such emotional and dire situations tampers with the perceptions we can obtain of true events. I was witness even to professional foreign media falling prey to this via youtube and twitter media information being distributed. Most likely due to their starvation for news.

    I cannot answer your question except that just like all of us in the professional world must answer to other professionals to ascertain our credibility, those tweeting and youtubing will most certainly have to go through the same process if we are to take historical and factual notes of the events they have recorded seriously.

    Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 8:48 am | Permalink
  2. Jip wrote:

    What about photos showing Iranian oppression/abuse of women?

    This entire subject is being construed in patriarchal terms, forgetting that half the population is oppressed and subjugated under whoever is in power. Ahmajinad…, the ayatollahs, whoever it is, half the popualtion are still oppressed.

    I’m sick of it.

    This is a partial protest, not a full one, and its not good enough.

    Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

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