Friday, February 11, 2011

Photojournalism Still Does the Job

First, look at this.

Freelance photojournalist Jodi Bieber won top prize in the 2011 World Press Photo awards for the striking pose of Afghan woman Bibi Aisha. 

Aisha, 18, suffered Taliban justice when she left her abusive husband. Her punishment for wanting out of the violent marriage? Her husband cut off her nose and her ears. The photo is arresting because it is sickening in a way that cannot be ignored. 

I am completely unable to put the whole story into context; I will never be able to comprehend the deeper meaning, to understand how a society exists that respects the "justice" of the act of violence that made this photo possible. 

This is why photojournalism exists. 

Some messages cannot be conveyed in words.

As I contemplated the winning photo, my head started spinning. Back in the dark ages when I went to J-school (and film was developed in darkrooms) I learned that a good photo could be worth a thousand words; a great photo worth a thousand inches. Of newsprint. 

What is such a photo worth now?

The world has changed; journalism has changed; the world has changed journalism and journalism has   changed the world. (Still spinning.) I believe, and I want to believe, that journalists will continue to work and some of their work will change the world. For the better, I hope. 

Back to the story, the one about the photo. Buried deep, because it can't be the lead - not with a photo like that - is this quote from David Burnett, jury chairman for the awards:
"A lot of the best work is done by photographers who went out and did it on their own. They didn't wait to be sent."

In other words, they were freelancers. In some cases, freelancers commissioned by (the remaining few) powerful corporate news organizations. But they went out and did it on their own.
Burnett's statement leaves me both encouraged and even more worried about Journalism's present and future. 

Unfortunately, as with the photo, I'm left with a only tiny bit of insight, and absolutely no answers. Anyone?

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Jodi Beiber's photo

World Press Photo
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