Over the Memorial Day weekend, I was in Telluride, Colorado for the Mountainfilm Festival thanks to the support of National Geographic Expeditions Council and the Young Explorers Grant Program. It was a fantastic weekend spent in the company of some great friends, and when it was over and our presentations complete, we sat down and watched my beloved “politics by another means” Eurovision Song Contest. But once it was really over, the local indy paper, the San Juan Independent, came knocking and sent over some questions for a Q + A. Here are the parts that are relevant generally to photography today:
Q: As a photographer, how do you believe technology has and will affect the field of photojournalism, if at all? Specifically, we are seeing more advanced cameras and equipment at more affordable prices, including GoPros and camera phones, and more “average Joe’s” being able to capture images and moments they could not years ago. Is this a good thing for photojournalism and photography or does it have a negative impact?
A: A photojournalist is not a guy with an iPhone recording a police shooting of an unarmed black man, but what that guy produces, that level of documentation, is photojournalism. Photography is about ways of seeing, not merely seeing. I think prices for photography of a certain level are very low, lower than they have ever been. Photography is about how we see and the way we produce a narrative to relay the truth as we interpret it with regard to contemporary events and lives.
Q: Why do you do what you do? What are the things you find most rewarding about your work? What project have you completed that has had the biggest impact on you personally?
A: This is a very hard question because every day we are challenged by continuing to do what we do. Economic circumstances in the industry right now are terrible and nearly every photographer has supplementary income that is tangential to the photography or an extension of it. I do what I do because I believe in the need for physical documentation of historical events because memory betrays us all too often. do not hope or expect change. I actually believe and fully expect most things will get worse while a modicum of things will improve slightly. What I hope for with my work is to serve the broader purpose of historical memory.
Q: What are the most substantial challenges you and your peers face as photojournalists? Do you believe the hurdles you face would have been the same or similar years ago, or are there circumstances in the present that cause different problems?
A: Right now there is a certain crisis of truth, which we saw come to the fore with the recent World Press photo scandal with a haphazard investigation after the organization stood by a photographer who placed a flashlight in a car while his cousin fornicated and called it a found moment. Eventually the work was disqualified because it turns out it was not even where the photographer said it was. There are more flaks than ever and the language of the war on terror has completely obfuscated even simple dialogues about random acts of violence. Every era has its challenges; this era has many.
Q: What challenges do you imagine photojournalists might face in the future?
A: Depending on where you are in the world and what the security situation is, photojournalists experience different types of peril. As our own security weakens or strengthens, I believe we can look around the world in order to figure out what to expect.
Q: Generally speaking, what is the future, or the fate, of photojournalism? Many people seem to believe print journalism will eventually become obsolete. Do you believe photojournalism could be headed down the same path, or does the medium transcend?
A: It depends on what your pictures look like and the paucity and historicity of what you photograph. People love documentation because it has a validating effect on our lives. I don’t believe this tendency of humanity will change anytime soon.
And here is a short 30 second video tour of my show at Telluride Mountainfilm: