What is Photojournalism?

Question: Dr. Ellen, this may be a dumb question but, what is photojournalism?

No question is a dumb question! Photojournalism is a story-telling medium, mostly; one that combines images and writing to more thoroughly explore a given subject. There has always been hot debate about what is right and what is wrong at the interface of news reporting and photography, but that is a special case of photojournalism. Not all photojournalism falls into that category by any stretch.

The debate, of course, is how ‘true’ to the scene are the photographs in question. I, personally, think that the debate is a silly one – because any shooter, whether he or she digitally enhances an image or not, clearly select out a scene to project to readers which is already baised by the act of selecting one scene over another.

Each of the following images projects a very real part of the Rainbow River Aquatic Preserve in Dunnellon, FL. Both are ‘true’ reflections of the river; one shows the physical impact of large development, while the other shows the river in a more pristine state.

Indeed, the scenes below are of the same exact place on the river, though is shot from the river and the other is shot from the no longer existant understory at the river’s edge.

Both images tell quite different stories, eh?

The Rainbow River  Dunnellon, FL

© Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph

essay17-2 DUnnellon, FL on the Rainbow River

© Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph

Photojournalistic shooters are moving into many traditional photography domains like weddings and are making a huge impact. These kinds of shooters strive to capture the moment and the emotional flow of a wedding rather than more traditional wedding poses.

There is more of an avant guard feel to photojournalistic approaches compared to shots taken by a traditional wedding photographer. Not that one way of shooting is right and the other wrong, they are just different ways of ‘seeing.’

An example

My approach as a photojournalist in the conservation domain is to tell the story of the damage that human growth and urbanization is perpetrating on our natural world and its wild inhabitants. But instead of just trying to show what is wrong, I try to show how and why it is that such damage is being done and, if possible, how we might even be able to control it.

The urban/wild interface is even a more challenging one to try to illustrate.

Let’s say question is, how can I best show the huge and irreversible damage that is being inflicted on the African Elephant? By showing the Elephant in dwindling family groups? By capturing an image of a bloody, ravaged chunk of ivory lying in the red African sand? If I want you to imagine what is happening, then I would probably opt for the bloody chunk of ivory. That image tells a story on its own merits.

Photojournalism is a minimalist approach in that sense.

It lets the photo speak for itself.

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