Stephen Bull in his article “Digital Photograph never looked so Analogue” talks about the simplicity of smartphones in making an image, the tools that enable a photograph to be crafted in a retro style and the accessibility to load images and share with others across the globe. The images shared may be for pleasure or submitted to news agencies and other media.
The images taken by Damon Winter in his series “A Grunt’s Life” depict American soldiers based in Afghanistan in off duty moments.
In order to capture these images Winter used Hipstamatic on his smartphone. In his contribution to a discussion forum about his work he makes a statement about his approach and reasoning for taking the images using these tools. However, I would argue that there are contradictions in Winter’s words. He describes the simplicity of his images as follows:
“At the heart of all of these photos is a moment, or a detail, or an expression that tells the story of these soldiers’ day-to-day lives while on a combat mission. Nothing can change that. No content has been added, taken away, obscured or altered. These are remarkably straightforward and simple images.”
However, later in his response he says the following:
“We are not walking photocopiers. We observe, we choose moments, we frame little slices of our world with our viewfinders, we even decide how much or how little light will illuminate our subject, and yes we choose what equipment to use and through all of these decisions, we shape the way a story is told.”
In our work last week it was reported that Joel Meyerowitz was commissioned by the Museum of the City of New York to provide an official body of images in his Reflections on Ground Zero. It was suggested that somehow still photographs would provide a more “official history” that moving images might be less able to achieve. Similarly, professional photojournalists have made the case that citizen journalism cannot replace their skills and approach not least because, as Nick Danziger argues:
“Recording the extremes of human existence is not a job for amateurs . . .because it is not enough to be in the right place at the right time. . . All good reportage photographers go beyond being an eyewitness.”
So which is it, are Winters’ images simple and straightforward or do we as photographers shape the way the story is told? As photojournalists, could Meyerowitz and Winter distance themselves from the emotionally-charged circumstances in which they were working at Ground Zero and in Afghanistan? Are photojournalists able to be objective and distant from the events they are witnessing? Are there types of photography or situations where an objective approach can be taken – for example, scientific photography or forensic photography?
I believe that even in these most restrictive of photographic applications we must still be mindful of Freeman Patterson’s comment: “the camera looks both ways”.
Campany D, (2003) Safety in Numbness: Some Remarks on Problems of ‘Late Photography’” http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/
Lister, M (ed) (2013) The Photographic Image in Digital Culture, Routledge, London
Patterson, F, (1977) Photography for the Joy of It, Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd, Toronto