How to be a Wannabe – Part Two
There is no doubt that some of our best conflict photojournalists are locals who have had the story thrust upon them. They are often highly sophisticated individuals who in happier times would be pursuing careers in business, teaching, law or whatever. They have the language, local knowledge and contacts, experience and street smarts to enable them to operate and survive. Anybody coming in from outside has to be able to at least match this with an equivalent contribution. In a conflict zone or a disaster area anyone who is not effectively reporting the story is in the way, an unnecessary drain on scarce resources and a potential threat to themselves and their colleagues.
No picture is worth a human life. The challenge is judging just how far to push the limits and still be able to go back and do it again the next day and the next. Even those operating in “embeds” should undertake basic hazardous environment and first aid training. Languages too are very, very useful. Even so too many clever, well prepared photojournalists without a reckless bone in their bodies have already died just doing their jobs.
Physical location is also important. Unless you have a local story which can provide you with a living there is no point in kidding yourself that you can live in the Scottish Highlands and commute to London for work. If the story and the market are in Tokyo, go to Tokyo.
In practical terms experience generally wins out over qualifications. Photographic qualifications may equip the wannabe with a structure on which to build a career but equipment alone does not make a top flight professional news photographer. Qualifications are a guide but they are by no means a guarantee and it is the pictures that count.
The maintenance of high professional standards does not mean you have to sacrifice yourself on the altar of technology. Adapt. Embrace new technology, master it, exploit it. If you get bored, reinvent yourself and the rules by which you operate. Don’t be a one trick pony. If you have a style develop it and when there is nowhere else to go with it do something else, don’t stand still. Experiment, take risks with your pictures.
Don’t be a victim, be a consumer – consumers have rights, if you see media which use pictures badly then complain, threaten to withdraw your readership, better still offer to do better.
“Citizen journalism” isn’t a threat to professional news photography, it is just another potential source of images in an ever more image hungry world. I have no doubt that the business will continue to rationalise as stills from video becomes the norm for routine press conferences and the like but video does not tend to produce the same kind of interpretive images that still photographers do and as long as we have something unique to offer there will be a market for it.
Despite the doom and gloom this is a real and thriving business. Come on in, the water’s lovely!