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Analyzing the brief history of photo-journalism, its ethical issues in the Nigerian perspective

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  1. 1. A WRITE UP ON PHOTOJOURNALISM, ITS HISTORY, ETHICAL ISSUES AND THENIGERIAN PERSPECTIVE"A picture is worth a thousand words" should be the motto of the photojournalist. It certainly iswhat they are all about. Who can ever forget some of the most memorable photos of the 20thcentury? It was the photo journalist who brought us the horror of the holocaust, the joy of thesailor who returned home and the faces of the world. We have been a part of history through theeyes of a camera lens”.The practice of illustrating news stories with photographs was made possible by printing andphotography innovations that occurred between 1880 and 1897. While newsworthy events werephotographed as early as the 1850s, printing presses could only publish from engravings until the1880s. Early news photographs required that photos be re-interpreted by an engraver before theycould be published. Train wrecks and city fires were a popular subject in these early days.According to Okoye (2007) Photo journalism is a particular form of journalism (the collecting,editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast) that creates images in orderto tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, but in some casesthe term also refers to video used in broadcast journalism. Photojournalism is distinguished fromother close branches of photography (e.g., documentary photography, social documentaryphotography, street photographyor celebrity photography) by complying with a rigid ethicalframework which demands that the work is both honest and impartial whilst telling the story instrictly journalistic terms. Photojournalists create pictures that contribute to the news media.However just like a writer, a photojournalist is a reporter but he or she must often make decisionsinstantly and carry photographic equipment, often while exposed to significant obstacles (e.g.,physical danger, weather, crowds).BRIEF HISTORY OF PHOTOJOURNALISMThe practice of illustrating news stories with photographs was made possible by printing andphotography innovations that occurred between 1880 and 1897. While newsworthy events werephotographed as early as the 1850s, printing presses could only publish from engravings until the
  2. 2. 1880s. Early news photographs required that photos be re-interpreted by an engraver before theycould be published. Train wrecks and city fires were a popular subject in these early days.In 1847, an unknown photographer took daguerreotypes of the U.S. troops in Satilo, Mexico,during the Mexican-American War. The first known photojournalist was CarolSzathmari (Romanian painter, lithographer, and photographer) who did pictures in the CrimeanWar (between Russia and Ottoman Empire, 1853 to 1856). His albums were sent to Europeanroyals houses. Just a few of his photographs survived. William Simpson of the IllustratedLondon News and Roger Fenton were published as engravings. Similarly, the American CivilWar photographs of Mathew Brady were engraved before publication in HarpersWeekly. Because the public craved more realistic representations of news stories, it was commonfor newsworthy photographs to be exhibited in galleries or to be copied photographically inlimited numbers.On March 4, 1880, The Daily Graphic (New York) published the first halftone (rather thanengraved) reproduction of a news photograph. In 1887, flash powder was invented, enablingjournalists such as Jacob Riis to photograph informal subjects indoors, which led to the landmarkwork How the Other Half Lives. By 1897, it became possible to reproduce halftone photographson printing presses running at full speed.Photo-journalism is almost as old as the camera itself. The first photo journalist was CarolSzathmari who did documentary photos of the Crimean War in the 1850s. It was Matthew Bradywho really should have the title of greatest photojournalist of the 19th century. His photos of theCivil War were made into engravings and published in Harpers Weekly. They are no lesspoignant today than they were when he took them over 150 years ago. He brought to life themain players in the Civil War. If it wasnt for him we would not have seen the care worn face ofAbraham Lincoln or the meeting of the great generals.It took until the 1880s for photographs to be published in newspapers. The invention of the flashpowder allowed photography to go indoors added a whole new dimension to the ability of thephotojournalist to tell his story with pictures.It wasnt until the flash bulb was invented along with the 35mm camera that photojournalismreally took off. The period between the 1930s and the 1950s is called the Golden Age ofphotojournalism.
  3. 3. Henri Cartier Bresson is called by many the Father of modern photojournalism. He isnt the onlyone who has been given this title but he certainly deserves. His photos have taken us from Africain the 1920s, to the Spanish Civil War, Gandhi just hours before his assassination and theliberation of Paris.During the 1920s Germany was at the forefront of photojournalism through its magazinesMunchner Illustrated Presse and Berliner IllustrirtePresse. They began printing candid photos ofpoliticians and other people of interest to the public. Cameras had become small enough to besneaked into places they would never have been able to go before.In American Look and Life picked up the cue and dished up full page photos to bring the worldto their readers. It took a while for America to catch up with the idea of the candid shot buteventually it became the norm.The 1950s saw one of the most famous roving photojournalist of all, Jackie Bouvier. She couldbe found roving the streets of Washington DC looking for an interesting photo, story orhandsome senator.Today the word paparazzo has replaced the photojournalist in the common jargon. It has alsocome to be considered an invasive and frightening occupation. These celebrity seekers haveplaced a cloud over what has been a long history of exemplary work, often under dangerous andtrying conditions. It is time that magazines and newspapers refuse to buy these photos and thatreaders refuse to purchase publications that print them. They cheapen the work of the greatphotojournalists who follow the real stories around the world.In France, agencies such as Rol, Branger and Chusseau-Flaviens (ca. 1880-1910) syndicatedphotographs from around the world to meet the need for timely new illustration Despite theseinnovations, limitations remained, and many of the sensational newspaper andmagazine storiesin the period from 1897 to 1927, (see Yellow Journalism) were illustrated with engravings. In1921, the wire photo made it possible to transmit pictures almost as quickly as news itself couldtravel. However, it was not until development of the commercial35mm Leica camera in 1925,and the first flash bulbs between 1927 and 1930 that all the elements were in place for a "goldenage" of photojournalism.
  4. 4. In the "golden age" of photojournalism (1930s–1950s), some magazines (PicturePost (London),Paris Match (Paris), Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (Berlin), BerlinerIllustrirteZeitung (till April 1945) (Berlin), Life (USA), Look (USA), Sports Illustrated (USA))and newspapers (The Daily Mirror(London), The New York Daily News (New York)) built theirhuge readerships and reputations largely on their use of photography, and photographers suchas Robert Capa, Romano Cagnoni,Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White and W. EugeneSmith became well-known names.Henri Cartier-Bresson is held by some to be the father of modern photojournalism, although thisappellation has been applied to various other photographers, such as Erich Salomon, whosecandid pictures of political figures were novel in the 1930s.Soldier Tony Vaccaro is also recognized as one of the pre-eminent photographers of World WarII. His images taken with the modest Argus C3 captured horrific moments in war, similar toCapas soldier being shot. Capa himself was on Omaha Beach on D-Day and captured pivotalimages of the conflict on that occasion. Vaccaro is also known for having developed his ownimages in soldiers helmets, and using chemicals found in the ruins of a camera store in 1944.Until the 1980s, largest newspapers were printed with turn-of-the-century "letterpress"technology using easily smudged oil-based ink, off-white, low-quality "newsprint" paper, andcoarse engraving screens. While letterpresses produced legible text, the photoengraving dots thatformed pictures often bled or smeared and became fuzzy and indistinct. In this way, even whennewspapers used photographs well — a good crop, a respectable size — murky reproductionoften left readers re-reading the caption to see what the photo was all about. TheWall StreetJournal adopted stippled hedcuts in 1979 to publish portraits and avoid the limitations ofletterpress printing. Not until the 1980s had a majority of newspapers switched to "offset"presses that reproduce photos with fidelity on better, whiter paper.By contrast Life, one of Americas most popular weekly magazines from 1936 through the early1970s, was filled with photographs reproduced beautifully on oversize 11×14-inch pages, usingfine engraving screens, high-quality inks, and glossy paper. Life often published a United PressInternational (UPI) or Associated Press (AP) photo that had been first reproduced in newspapers,but the quality magazine version appeared to be a different photo altogether.
  5. 5. In large part because their pictures were clear enough to be appreciated, and because their namealways appeared with their work, magazine photographers achieved near-celebrity status. Lifebecame a standard by which the public judged photography, and many of todays photo bookscelebrate "photojournalism" as if it had been the exclusive province of near-celebrity magazinephotographers.The Best of Life (1973), for example, opens with a two-page (1960) group shot of 39 justlyfamous Life photographers. But 300 pages later, photo credits reveal that scores of the photosamong Lifes "best" were taken by anonymous UPI and AP photographers.Thus even during the golden age, because of printing limitations and the UPI and AP syndicationsystems, many newspaper photographers labored in relative obscurity.However the, the emergence of photo agencies startedIn 1947 a few famous photographersfounded the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos. In 1989 CorbisCorporation and in 1993 Getty Images were founded. These powerful image libraries sell therights to photographs and other still images.PHOTO JOURNALISM ISSUES IN NIGERIAPhoto journalism in Nigeria is just developing, though it is healthy, in the sense that there is arelatively free press, and practically all the newspapers use photographs. There is also aburgeoning celebrity magazine market with ample use of personality shots. Remunerationhowever, leaves much to be desired. A few of Nigerian photographers either prefers to work orstring for international agencies, and one in particular, George Osodi, is a recognized master inthis field. A lot have been analysed about this emerging field in Nigeria, there are barrage ofcriticism, issues, surrounding photojournalist and photojournalism in Nigeria. However constantattacking, harassing/assaulting photo journalist in Nigeria had established high rate of jobinsecurity on the part of the journalist. (Akinbode 2003)Media critics and viewers question the use of gruesome images, dozens of photographershounding celebrities, picture manipulations that present misleading views, visual messages thatperpetuate negative stereotypes of individuals from various multicultural groups, and images thatblur the distinction between advertising and journalism.1 What is happening? Nothing that hasnt
  6. 6. been a part of photography since its invention in 1839.What is new, however, is the spread ofcomputer technology that allows practically anyone to produce and disseminate visual messagesin massive numbers for a world-wide audience. So indirectly we can as well assume that thephoto journalism is filed is being compromised for financial reasons. Because images aredesigned almost immediately to evoke emotional responses among viewers, pictures havetremendous impact. With well-chosen words, visual messages combine to educate, entertain andpersuade. But the flip side to such visual power is that images can also offend shock, mislead,stereotype and confuse.Nigerian photo-journalist had lived with the orientation that the best picture they could take isfrom victim of violence, for example, after a gruesome image of dead or grieving victims of atragic event is presented to the public in either the print or screen media, many viewers are oftenrepulsed and offended by the picture. Nevertheless, violence and tragedy are staples of Americanjournalism. "If it bleeds, it leads" is a popular, unspoken sentiment in many newsrooms. Thereason for this obvious incongruity is that a majority of viewers are attracted and intrigued bysuch stories, apparently they are producing picture that injures. Photojournalists who win PulitzerPrizes and other international competitions are almost always witness to excruciatingly painfulhuman tragedies that nevertheless get published or broadcast. It is as if viewers want to seeviolent pictures, but through gaps in the fingers in front of their face.Editors need to be sure thatimages of murder or automobile victims are really necessary to tell the story. Journalists oftencite the reason for using such visual messages as a way to warn others of the dangers of modernliving or to urge drivers to watch the speed limit. Another, perhaps more honest reason, is toavoid being scooped by a rival media organization. Despite well-rehearsed explanations,sensational images of victims of violence are shown as much for economic as utilitarian reasons.The media concentration on criminal activity creates an exaggerated perception of crime in theminds of viewers. Rather than focusing on bloody body bags, journalists need to explain theunderlying social forces that cause such tragic events to occur.Cameras and the images theyproduce are naively thought by many to never lie.But because humans operate the machine, technical, composition and content manipulations areunavoidable. Computer technology did not start the decline in the credibility of pictures, but ithas hastened it. Photographic darkrooms are quickly being replaced by computer workstation
  7. 7. light rooms. But as long as photojournalists do not subtract or add parts of a pictures internalelements, almost any other manipulation once accomplished in a photographic darkroom isconsidered ethical for news-editorial purposes.Two factors may guard against a further erosionof credibility in visual messages: Reputation of the media organization that publishes orbroadcasts images and the words that accompany the manipulated picture.Credibility is not aninherent quality of a particular picture, but a concept based on tradition, story choices, designconsiderations and reader perception of the company or individual that produces the image.Photography is undergoing an exciting and challenging time in its history.Currently, the photographic medium is in a hybrid or transitional period between traditional filmand computer technologies, But no matter how the tools of journalism change, fundamentalethical concerns still apply. Displaying violent, sensational images for economic reasons,violating a persons privacy before the judicial process can function, manipulating news-editorialpictures to alter their content, stereotyping individuals into pre-conceived categories and blurringthe distinction between advertising and editorial messages were journalism concerns in 1895, areimportant topics in 1995 and will be carefully considered issues, no doubt, in 2095.Professionals, academics and students owe it to their readers to be sensitive to unethical practicesthat demean the profession and reduce the credibility of journalism.Therefore, it is imperativethat whenever and wherever possible, ethical issues be discussed by all those concerned aboutthe journalism profession.Three problems present themselves to anyone who argues that hard-hitting photojournalism isimportant in the daily press. The first concerns the compromised nature of photography as afoundation for authentic eye-witness reports. Photography, even in its most realistic style, is noabsolute guarantee or proof of events. The second problem derives from the poor state of thenewspaper industry as a source of reliable public record. News has become more entertainingand trivial than concerned or controversial. The third problem, which is the main point of thisessay, relates to how effective hard-hitting documentary record might be, given that readers aresupposed to be quickly bored by images of suffering unknown strangers. The argument stressesthat photographs might be used in evidence; the press does not have to be trivial; shockingphotographs are a measure of the presss contribution to debate in a civilized society.
  8. 8. ETHICS IN PHOTOJOURNALISMMerriam-Webster defines ―ethics‖ as, ―the code of good conduct for an individual or group,‖ andlists synonyms as, ―morality, morals, principles, [and] standards. In terms of ethics inphotojournalism, the National Press Photographers Associations Code of Ethics reads, in part:Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspirehope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visualunderstanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or aremanipulated.The Code of Ethics goes on to detail what is and is not acceptable in professionalphotojournalism. Though the standards may seem fairly crystalized, every day there arechallenging borderline cases. Considering that photography itself is barely 150 years old, onemight wonder how these particular ethical guidelines came to be, and how they may be evolvingover time.As a topic, ethics in photojournalism is difficult to approach, or even to define. Inorder to ask questions such as, "What were photojournalistic ethics in the past," "what arephotojournalistic ethics today," and "what will photojournalistic ethics look like in the future,"one must first carefully define the concepts of both ‗ethics‘ and ‗photojournalism.‘What exactly qualifies as photojournalism? The answer is somewhat hazy. If photojournalism isphotography plus journalism, what is journalism? Princeton Universitys WorldNet definesjournalism as, "The profession of reporting or photographing or editing news stories for one ofthe media." Under that definition, someone who fakes an image of Bigfoot for the Weekly WorldNews is as much a journalist as the man who took the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of afirefighter holding a baby after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.That man (Charles H. PorterIV) was employed as a utility worker and not as a newspaper photographer at the time.Ethics is an inherently subjective field. In his seminal textbook, Photojournalism, theProfessionals’ Approach, author and photojournalism professor Kenneth Kobré writes,―Photojournalism has no Bible, no rabbinical college, no Pope to define correct choices.‖8 There
  9. 9. is no sole arbiter of what is or isnt ethical, and even if there were, the line isnt always black andwhite. Most texts regarding ethics in photojournalism focus on the issue of what might betermed ―photographic truth‖ - whether a particular image accurately represents the subject orwhether it misleads the viewer. The National Press Photographers Association Code ofEthics states that the ―primary goal‖ of the photojournalist is the ―...faithful and comprehensivedepiction of the subject at hand.‖ Can a photographer pose a news photo? Can he alter it, in thedarkroom or otherwise? Are the results of these actions ―faithful and comprehensivedepictions?‖ While myriad texts attempt to answer these particular questions, the scope ofphotojournalistic ethics extends significantly beyond them.For example, the distinction between ethics and taste is constantly up for debate, especially inrelation to violent or sexual imagery. While some see sex and violence as issues of taste, othersinclude them under the heading of ethics. Additionally, photojournalistic ethics mightencompass the choices an individual photographer makes while shooting. For example, should awar photographer put down his cameras in order to help an injured soldier? If someone asks thathis or her photo not be taken, is it ethical to photograph that person anyway? If ethics inphotojournalism is about being ―faithful and comprehensive,‖ is intentionally underexposing orpoorly focusing unethical? Some of these questions sit on the line between journalistic ethicsand professionalism.According to Professor Paul Martin Lester In his book Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach,California State University Fullerton outlines six ethical philosophies intended to helpphotographers and editors answer questions like those outlined above:1. The Categorical Imperative is a distilled version of Kant‘s notion that what is acceptable fora single person should be acceptable for everyone, almost like a theoretical ―nondiscriminationclause.‖ For example, suppose a newspaper editor is trying to decide whether to publish animage of a partially nude young woman fleeing a house fire. That editor should considerwhether he would publish the image under different circumstances - if the subject was male, orelderly, or obese. The Categorical imperative says that what goes for one should go foreveryone.
  10. 10. 2. Utilitarianism as a philosophy attempts to weigh positives and negatives of a situation, andmaximize the good for the greatest number of people. For example, if gruesome photos of a carcrash offend the victims‘ families, but shock the community into driving safely, then byUtilitarianism the taking and publication of those photos is deemed to be ethical.3. Hedonism represents the ―do what feels good‖ school of thought, and might be used to justifyprinting explicit photos simply because they are titillating. Publishing a provocative front pagephoto simply for the sake of selling newspapers would be an example of hedonism.4. The Golden Mean philosophy concerns compromise. If there is a less intrusive, offensive, ordisagreeable photo that still tells the story, which is the better option. The emphasis is on findingmiddle ground rather than an all-or-nothing approach.5. The Veil of Ignorance asks the photographer or editor to consider how they would feel if theywere the subject. If they would not feel good in the subject‘s place, it would be better to look fora different image.6. The Golden Rule is sometimes phrased ―love thy neighbor as thyself.‖ As an ethicalphilosophy it requires that a photographer or editor treat his subjects as he would treathimself. This, of course, leaves decisions subject to the photographer‘s, editors, or institution‘sethics. Which also mean respect for others to avoid injuries or ethical imperative.However Berserk D (2006) divides ethics into two categories - institutional ethics andphotographer-centric ethics. The policies of a particular newspaper or magazine would fallunder institutional ethics. For example, if a newspaper chooses not to publish an image for fearit is too graphic, that is an issue of institutional ethics or taste (and I will discuss the differencesbetween the two later in this thesis.) Photographer-centric ethics have to do with photographers‘choices at the time news photos are captured up until the photos are handed off to an editor.Whether or not to pose a subject, the question regarding what to do with a wounded soldier in
  11. 11. combat, and how a photographer treats an image in the darkroom (or in the computer) are allmatters of photographer-centric ethics. ScottBaradell 2005 opines that Pictures MustAlways Tell the TruthThere‘s an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes.Whenthreatenedor under fire, people inevitably cling to somethingcertain to guidethem through uncertain times.In life anddeath situations, this something is often a Bible. Today, the profession ofphotojournalism as we know it isthreatened by technological transformation, by the rise of video,by fragmentation of the media. It‘s under fire from a suspiciouspublic—watchdog bloggers,cable and radio pundits,and other critics who question the profession‘s credibility andauthority tobring us an accurate picture of the world.For photojournalists, it would be a great time to have aBible—in the form of a uniform, enforceable code of ethics—handy. Unfortunately,photojournalists have no such thing. There is no established set of rules to see newsphotographers throughthis storm.r u t h ”While ethical decisions have long played a central role in the business of newsgathering,journalists have never been governed by formal ethical standards. This is a key reason thatjournalism, by definition, is actually not a profession. You can‘t be disbarred or lose your licenseas a journalist. However, as with the incremental emergence of the English common law,journalists have gravitated over time to a handful of general ethical principles that are widelyrecognized. In the United States, these principles are designed to enhance journalism‘s authorityby ensuring that reporting is accurate, comprehensive and independent.Conversely, Photojournalists create pictures that contribute to the news media. They must possesTimeliness — the images have meaning in the context of a recently published record of events.Objectivity — the situation implied by the images is a fair and accurate representation of the eventsthey depict in both content and tone.Narrative — the images combine with other news elements to make facts relatable to the viewer orreader on a cultural level.
  12. 12. INTERVIEW ON NIGERIAN PHOTO JOURNALISTSEUN IJYKELLY.Seun is a video journalist, currently working with Channels Television for the past two years. Hebelieved, that Nigerian photo journalism is just evolving to meet with the international standards,he opined that ethics in photo journalism is not meticulously monitored, unlike others mediasectors in the country thus it has paved way for those who will use the profession to either cratepictures that injures through the modern technology or manipulate various photos to evokeaudience emotion or for yellow journalism. In his words ―you know economy is at the base ofevery society, anybody can just pick up a camera take a picture manipulate them for yellowjournalism and false statement will be therein, and before you know it is on the news stand‖.He also appealed the government to strategize a structural body which will be saddled with theresponsibility to certify photo-journalist, which will bar imposters from using the professionswrongly.REFRENCES: