I was trying to locate the origins of “the pen is mightier than the sword” and thinking it was Benjamin Franklin that coined the phrase. Turns out I was confusing Franklin with Thomas Jefferson.
The more fascinating read is the history of the origins of the phrase through time, starting about the 7th century BC.
What amazed me in the press today was the execution of a reporter in the ISIS state. I am not sure which holy books they have been reading, but even the prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying, “the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.”
I feel bad for the reporter, whose end was videotaped for the world the see and I guess some bizarre mindset that we would be so shocked that the west that we would stop bombing runs. Much like our wishy-washy foreign policy, the latest execution of someone trying to report the truth of what is actually happening to the world, will do the exact opposite of what the executioner intended.
Through history, the tides of war have been turned when someone does something really stupid, like executing prisoners in war and the word gets out, “don’t surrender, they will kill you anyway.”
Now journalists will say, “why go? you don't bring a camera lens to a gunfight.”
The executioner probably didn’t think through his actions all that well in realizing he just gave a license for the west to drop more bombs on them.
The cycle of insanity continues to continue.
What I wanted to touch on with photojournalists is that they have had a terrible run with the advent of the Internet. The internet is probably one of the better inventions since one machine that radically changed the way information was exchanged to the masses from the hand written books for only a few. The Guttenberg press.
The internet has changed the way we receive information and sadly, it is a form of death sentence to the newspaper, which was a place one could go read information and news that was edited and usually written by a smart person who could keep facts and bias separated. Many times the copy was accompanied by a photo taken by a person who had understanding of light, aperture and manual focus who could get a decent image with one roll of film and not 1,000 shutter clicks to fish for one digitally enhanced, cropped “great photo.”
Sorry, I rambled. Too much thought about the loss of deep reporting vs. the instant gratification of social media twit's of only 140 characters, yet accompanied by a video that has a 30 second intro about a product advertisement to make someone happy, that is then accompanied by a 30 second fly in logo intro that leads to a smiling talking head. Then one gets to listen to them to tell a three minute story with rapid fire edits of mediocre quality –to glean information I could have read and understood in 10 seconds in a paper.
I guess war reporting is the ultimate test for a photojournalist. Of course, warfare has changed dramatically. While Brady photographed the civil war (if you are in Washington, dc, head over to the national archives and have them pull a file on his images) and then while the horror of ww1 seems to have been minimal with photographic coverage, it was ww2 which saw photos and movies used not only to document history, but be used as great propaganda tools. The story of Capra on the beach in D-Day is just one image of that day on the beach landing. It is blurred and grainy. I guess a technician in the lab destroyed the other rolls he had that day.
Fast forward to other conflict, in the USA we had the Vietnam issue. The most iconic image I remember is Eddie Adams image of a man being executed. At that time, the technology of television brought the war into the 6pm news in each home.
It was seen as glamorous to be a war photographer. One could go out and test their limits while increasing the odds for a Pulitzer that would be almost like setting oneself up with a press to print money in ones retirement years.
Then technology changed again. War was fought at longer distances, with machines that could not be detected. The government also learned form Vietnam, “we really would prefer NO press come along, unless it is ours, or we have editorial jurisdiction (a polite way to say censorship power)
Today the media machine is simply like a Remora, moving along the great sharks called stories that are ignited all over the planet. it seems that there is no need to look deeply into issue anymore, just be first to push the data.
The people that choose this line of work are almost like some adventure character. Indiana Jones comes to mind. They wear funny hats, have almost an unofficial costume they put on to “look and feel” like a photojournalist. They tend to be adrenaline junkies and are not afraid to look for adventure. Hopefully the substance abuse issues of the job have decreased in the past 50 years?
A photojournalist is a unique person never really has to look inside him or herself anymore. They can simply stay behind the lens, ideally to document history that is happening in their eyesight range. Today it is easier than ever to just perpetually go and keep shooting images for others to see, while the shooter himself can hide deeper and deeper into the persona of what a photojournalist is supposed to look and act.
The reality is that today, humans really will have a hard time reporting a war as it happens. The distances of people shooting at each other are too far. The war reporter today usually gets there a few seconds after the bombs, missiles and bullets have hit. They show the aftermath more than the insane moments of man (or a kid) killing his fellow man.
My hats off to anyone willing to go shoot war images. I guess today the camera is being replaced by cell phone or video as a great still image that need no words to tell a story isn’t in high demand in the instant gratification information society.
I watched the young man die. While he wanted adventure and the ability to tell stories to document history and perhaps allow people to learn from our mistakes, he was used as a prop.
All I can do now is pray for his soul.
In his death, I fear more bombs will fall.
Who will report the news if photojournalists realize, “if I am captured, they will kill me.”
Today, only a lunatic and/or martyr would volunteer if his only weapon was a camera.
I think of the photo from Kevin carter that won a world photo competition. It was of a vulture waiting for a starving kid to die. I will never be a photojournalist, as one of the rules is you don’t change or interfere with the story. You document it. He ended up killing himself, as he looked inside. Perhaps the photographer’s lense is simply a protective barrier for a human being that does go shoot the worst of mans behavior against his fellow man?