View with a smartphone

Capturing a view on a smartphone. Credit: Ioannis Ritos.

Eyewitness Photojournalism

The photojournalist has been replaced by anybody--anybody with a smartphone. The photojournalist has been replaced by the eyewitness photographer. The trained specialist has been replaced by whoever is nearby when something catastrophic or horrifying happens. In the age of the Instagram-distributed eyewitness, things like the photographer's style, lighting, lens-choice, angle-of-view, ability in composition, etc., are all very much secondary to the fact of simply being present, with a phone.

Don McCullin says "photojournalism has had its day." But in fact, photojournalism (photos of news events) is just as relevant as ever. What has changed, is the mode of the person photographing. The lionized and famous photojournalist (as personified by McCullin) has been replaced by persons unknown--the random non-professional on-the-spot capturer, who is thrust into the role of action photographer quite unexpectedly. This new type of photojournalist is always making such photos for the first (and hopefully only) time ever. What is going, or already gone, is the specialist or expert photographer of the harrowing.

It is this change of mode, or change of register, that is of interest critically. In the smartphone epoch of instantaneous digital communication the formerly specific, manifest and well-prepared all-action photojournalist is replaced by myriad un-named or barely-named unsuspecting ghostlike photographers whose identities are ever-shifting, their presence near-intangible.

(3 February 2019)