I read an interesting item on PetaPixel the other day. Neil Burgess, 25 years a photojournalist, head of London-based photo agency NB Pictures, former head of Network Photographers and Magnum Photos, and twice Chairman of World Press Photo, reckons photojournalism is dead.
“I believe we owe it to our children to tell them that the profession of ‘photojournalist’ no longer exists,” says Burgess. “There are thousands of the poor bastards, creating massive debt for themselves hoping to graduate and get a job which no-one is prepared to pay for anymore. Even when photographers create brilliant stories and the magazine editors really want to publish them, they cannot pay a realistic price for the work.”
As someone who packed in working 9-5 to concentrate on being one of the “poor bastards…hoping to get a job which no one is prepared to pay for anymore”, this is disappointing news, assuming it is accurate.
I recently took a trip to the Porsche Museum, where I shot a few hundred frames on my Leica D-Lux 4 compact camera. Some are seen here. I had intended the pics for blog and library use but, as I was pleased with the quality, I decided to pitch them to Phil Raby, editor at Total 911 magazine.
“What about people who take once-in-a-lifetime trips to the Porsche Museum, Schlumpf Collection, Spa Francorchamps Museum and so on?” I asked Phil. “Why don’t we run a feature with the pics taken on a compact camera, like most folks will use on these trips? Let’s get Leica involved. I’ll go to London and talk to Brett, the Leica M photographer, get some critique on my pics, and ideas for myself and those coming after me to take with them to the museum.”
Phil, a keen photographer and fan of alternative visual projects for Total 911 magazine’s iPhone and iPad applications, liked the idea. I went to the Leica Akademie in Bruton Place, London to meet with Brett, and the piece is in this month’s issue of Total 911. It’s not the perfect manifestation of the concept, but I’m sure it’s not the last piece of this nature we three will do together, and reaction so far has been positive.
My first words and pics feature was the R Gruppe Bergmeister Tour in 911 and Porsche World magazine: it made the cover. I’ve since done a few more and they are steadily improving in my eyes, as is the copy that accompanies the pictures. What matters to me is exactly what mattered to every photojournalist that has gone before: that the vision is actualised and presented to a wider audience.
I started photography to support storytelling, and still see my pictures as helping to tell a story in three dimensions. Will my photography ever be as good as a full-blown professional’s work? In most applications, it doesn’t need to be; one way that photojournalism is evolving.
I feel the incredible buzz that surrounds these pieces, so I say photojournalism is far from dead: it is just assuming new forms in new media. After years of neglect, the art is waking up to endless potential, thanks to the rise of blogging, personal publishing, the iPad and all like it. To anyone who thinks they can make a living at it, I say you can.
Burgess’ career points call to mind a friend of mine who can make people laugh at a party feeling like she’s a natural born stand up, or another friend who once bluffed his way past customs, believing that he was a great actor in the making. Both are beautifully talented and both chased their dreams, only to discover that the commitment needed to transform that talent into a career is enormous; well beyond what either had imagined. The same is true of photojournalism in modern media.
Believe me, taking a salary from your vision is hugely challenging, but doable if you commit to it absolutely. Get ready to fall over a lot, and to be off the pace of many of your peers. If you don’t think you can turn that into something worthwhile that an audience will pay for, stay with the 9-5. But be sure the choice is yours: no one else’s.