What is a picture worth?

I was browsing around the web today looking at articles about Twitter. In that rambling way you get when click through links I came across unphotographable. Here is an entry that does a pretty good job of describing what it’s all about.

This is a picture I did not take of a homeless man who was a daily visitor to our dumpster, right outside the apartment where a burglar had stolen all my cameras a few months ago, rendering everything unphotographable, and the man had retrieved a chair from the dumpster, a chair we’d thrown-out because it was broken and we were moving and had no more use for it, and the man was sitting out by the dumpster, reclined in the chair, slowly paging through my catalog from KEH Camera Brokers.

A little vignette that couldn’t have been captured any other way by a photographer without their camera. Here is another:

This is a picture I did not take of a man receiving CPR after crashing his bicycle into a rocky outcropping while descending Brasstown Bald Mt. in Georgia. It is not a picture of a woman at the scene, sitting in shock on a guardrail, while her dog, a pit bull, begins to growl at a small boy who’s walked up to the scene with his puppy, a golden lab. This is not a picture of two dogs about to fight in front of a man receiving CPR.

This is not a picture of how the rock wall immediately followed a hairpin turn on the descent of the mountain, nor of the cycling spectators behind me, coasting down from the finish and pulling to a stop here, their breaks squealing. This is not a picture of them looking at a man lying in a ditch receiving chest compressions from a fellow cyclist.

This is not a picture of him, or them, or her, or arriving sirens, or dogs, or a shattered bicycle helmet at the base of a rock wall on a mountain in the pine forests of North Georgia.

Great aren’t they. A case of words being worth any picture.

The site is was the idea of photographer Michael David Murphy who found the issues of taking photographs in some of the Muslim communities he visited meant there was “so much to see, and no way to capture it, except through words.”

Am I trying to show that pictures are redundant? Prove that even in this multimedia age text is king? No. Just as it would be unreasonable to expect that that a photojournalist stops being a journalist when they don’t have a camera. Digital gives us room for both and what Micheal proves that the skills are not, as some would have you believe, mutually exclusive.

You can have and do both as sites like unphotographable and its ilk prove.

Be prepared

So perhaps it isn’t such a great heresy to suggest that a journalist would be expected go out without some kind of photo or video device when they report. After all, think of all the opportunities they could miss when you are out and about. Be prepared as the cub scouts say.

I’m telling the students that carrying a little camera or recording device is a quick and easy way to maximise the content they generate as part of the reporting process and maximise that value with social media. ( Robin Hamman has some great advice on this )

That’s not to say it’s easy. Pulling a camera out to take snaps of a man receiving CPR or the local constabulary nipping in to Tesco for a bit of lunch is difficult – especially if you are new to the photography game. Like death knocks, that will take a bit of getting used to.

Risky business?

But increasingly it isn’t just your own nervousness that you have to get over. Take this an example:

This is video of an incident that got a fair bit of coverage around the web of a photographer being ‘restrained’ for taking pictures in a public place. (more on Flickr). There is quite a lot of this sort of thing going round. In fact a mate of mine found himself in a very similar position recently.

Changing environments

Having worked in broadcast I have had my fair share of people pushing cameras and demanding to be left off filming. But this kind of thing feels like something different and not just something that is limited to a legion of amatuer photographers. Micheal, as a professional snapper, illustrates this point through another of his blogs on ‘street photography

The ubiquity of the technology does little to set journalists apart from the masses – Just think about the blogs Vs Journalism debate if you don’t agree. And in the the same way that some may argue that everyone with a camera can be a journalist, a journalist with a camera could be treated as of much as a risk/threat/target as everyone.

In the same way that digital natives like me need a reminder of how dynamic text can be in a multimedia medium perhaps there are other things that we should be thinking about when we pack off journalists with digital toolkits other than how much the cameras cost.

Update: Sion Touhig’s take on this is great and as a snapper he knows of what he speaks

This post is part of Carnival of Journalism, hosted this month by Yoni Greenbaum.


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