Questioning photojournalism – How true is truth?
Writer – Meera Vijayann
A few weeks after making it to the cover of every newspaper and magazine across the world, debates surrounding photographer Paul Hansen’s image of 15-year old Fabienne Cherisma, a Haitian teenager shot by the police for stealing, made people sit up and take notice. Was there another story behind the photograph?
Not so long after, another famous picture of Fabienne Cherisma began doing the rounds. Only this time, people were offered another view. The callousness with which most photographers were exploiting the tragedy was shot by Nathan Weber, a Chicago-based photographer.
Photo courtesy – Petapixel
Photojournalists are often seriously questioned about the nature of their job. Is it ethical to exploit tragedies? The answer, perhaps, is more complex than a simple yes or no. The news, for obvious reasons just isn’t enough, and needs visuals so that the world sees a reality beyond its reach. And it is almost impossible to draw a line between ‘what has been’ and ‘what could have been’. Most often, both go hand in hand. Certainly, in today’s age of computers and design, photographers can be questioned on the authenticity of their work. Routine digital manipulation has only made people more wary of trusting what they see in the press – remember the photograph that brought The Economist under fire? or the infamous photographs of the 2001 Israel-Lebanon conflict by Middle-eastern photographer, Adnan Hajj?
Stuart Freedman, an award-winning photographer, believes that photojournalism is undergoing an identity-crisis of sorts. Does shooting visual clichés of suffering make good photojournalism? he asks. The answer is a resounding ‘no’. It is unfair to come to a conclusion that all photojournalists are simply a breed of heartless, money-minded cameramen waiting for the worst to happen. The techniques they employ to get their work done can sure as hell look awful. But the bottomline is, engaging visual storytelling often involves looking at photograph at so many different levels. Does it capture the moment? Does it engage? Is it contextual? Does it reflect reality? Does it tell a story? Does it say enough?
For obvious reasons then, the question of ethics tends take a backseat when there’s work to be done.