As we come to the end of 2011 we are being hit with all the year in review stuff. Lists of best (or worst) movies, books, tv shows, fashion, you name it are being foisted on us. Photography is no exception.
I get frustrated with all of the “best of photo” lists, however. I have yet to see a list that isn’t entirely photo-journalistic. And these lists evoke comments from photographers like “This is why we do what we do!”
Most of the photographers who post comments like that are being at best disingenuous. Most of those photographers are not in photography to expose the injustices of a tyrannical regime or the sufferings of the starving. Nope. Most photographers wouldn’t have the courage to drop everything (except their camera) and run into the riots, the wars, the pestilence that the best, gutsiest photo-journalists actively seek out every day. And they shouldn’t pretend like they are because, and I know I’m going to piss off some folks but I’ll say it anyway, photo-journalists are no better than other photographers.
I’m not saying they are worse, mind you, but they are not better. PJ/non-PJ are simply alternate universes in imagery.
Photo-journalism is subject-driven. Of course there is good and bad imagery created by photo-journalists, but if you “get the shot” when the world is crumbling around you, no matter how well or poorly, it is a creation to the scene. That is, a photo-journalist (an ethical one, I mean) does not create the subject of his image (and forgive me, I am not going to his/her, s/he this piece although of course both genders do this work)–he, essentially, takes the photo. The great ones bring something more than just focus or framing to that, of course, but at its base, photo-journalism is a sort of reaction photography.
Other photographers make their photos from scratch. They create the scene, the subject, the environment… all or in part. Their starting point is not to tell the very real story of _______; it is not about capturing, about reacting to the world presented. It is about creating the image, creating that world. From shooting a CEO in his office for a sales brochure (to engender trust and show humanity in the boss, say) to full-on set building/costumed/post-production whizbangery, the only reality is what the photographer makes. This kind of photography also has its good and bad practitioners, but whatever these people do, it is production photography.
I get frustrated with photo-journalism being lauded as something better. The photographers who make images, who create their own visual reality (that includes visual reality for their clients) are not beneath those who capture the real world.
Again, I’m not maligning photo-journalists. Not at all. There are some amazing artists in that realm. But there are also some images that make these Best of lists because the photographer “got lucky” and that’s it. The subject is so profound that, as long as the image shows that subject in focus/in frame, we are moved.
But still we don’t see images created for, say, marketing on those same Best of lists. We are still moved by these images… arguably even more so because we take action. In terms of economics, the non-PJ photographers have a much greater impact in the world. They create the images that sell the products and services driving our economies. And yet those images don’t get the same glory. Seems unfair.
Why don’t we see lists of the non-PJ images that made the biggest impact in 2011? I dunno, but can you think of one such list? I can’t think of any. So I’d like to start one. What do you think? What images in advertising or marketing have you seen this year that you think particularly stand out?