What Can Photography Reveal about Humanity?

Rethinking the task of documentary photography

With Phil BICKER, Creative Director at Magnum Photos and Associate Photo Editor at TIME Magazine

Presented by Crossroads Cultural Center and Columbia Catholic Ministry

The topic for this discussion is the role of photography in contemporary journalism. This is a very interesting topic for several reasons. First of all, it brings together some apparently unrelated fields: it is a journalistic endeavor, but it also has a distinct artistic aspect, and it is also socially and politically relevant. Moreover, photojournalism as a profession deals every day with some important philosophical questions. For instance, how does a photographer or editor answer his/her desire for truth in image making without becoming a victim of his/her own preconceptions and prejudices? And considering that a photograph has the power to freeze time – to capture a fleeting moment in an ever-changing and varied continuum of reality -- what obligation does a photojournalist have to "go beyond" the isolated moment to explore more deeply the truth of his or her subjects? Is the purpose of a photograph to show a moment in time that stands on its own, or to offer a window into the entire reality portrayed by the image? And what does this imply for the respective task of photographer and viewer? How much does a photographer “create” his subjects? Clearly, these questions have great significance beyond the narrow borders of photojournalism as such, and many of them could be raised about other aspects of our media-driven culture. Hence, we are fortunate to have with us a very distinguished panelist whose reflections on these matters reflect many years of outstanding professional experience.

The event is open to the public and free of charge.

About this Event

Date: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Columbia University, Faculty House
Seminar Room, 2nd Floor
64 Morningside Drive, NYC
Directions to Faculty House

About the Speakers

Phil Bicker
Creative Director at Magnum Photos and Associate Photo Editor at TIME Magazine


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Reader Comments (1)

I was intrigued last night by Mr. Bicker's observation of the increasingly fine line between documentary reportage and "voyeurism" (which, in the sense used last night, is meant here as deriving a certain pleasure from witnessing suffering and disaster, i.e., like a motorist might look at a traffic accident on the side of the road).

I am trying to come up with a set of criteria for when an image is reportage, and when it is voyeuristic. Is it the substance of the image itself? Whether or not the image has been "done before?" While these things might be factors, I think really it comes down to this: if an image moves its audience to action, or creates a lasting change in attitude, or imparts some knowledge, it is reportage. If instead it merely provokes a fleeting emotion and temporary interest, it is voyeuristic.

What I like about this definition is that it implicates photographers, editors, and viewers.

First, the photographer has the responsibility of creating an image that does more than grab attention with shock value. The photographer ought to go out to obtain images that go beyond cliché, and preconceived notions of a person or place. In other words, to keep finding the new angle.

The editor, for his part, has the responsibility to not curate a set of images that only feeds a passing macabre curiosity. Rather, an editor ought to curate coverage of an event or place with sensitivity to all the factors implicated, and not simply give the audience what they expect to see (e.g., "oh, look, another middle east story about violence and bloodshed").

Finally, the viewer, for her part, has to realize that any single image or photo essay cannot possibly capture all the nuances of reality. Thus, a photograph should always be seen as an invitation to know more about what is depicted. In an age when we all have access to a world of information at our fingertips, this isn't particularly difficult to do. And the integration of interactive media into photography can make it even easier (again here is the responsibility of editor and photographer).

What is required on all fronts is simply to be in touch with our own humanity, and to not squelch our native curiosity to know the world around us.

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Galalis

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