The world of photography, especially in journalism, is a complex weave of structure, sight, composition, light, and texture. So there is no wonder that some photographers must face a very important decision—staging versus fate. While both illustrate the skills involved in taking pictures, these “directors” must often choose their style (fate/staged) for both shots, no matter how hard one tries, will still be able to be broken down. Meaning, many viewers will deconstruct the photograph. If they were to decide that the picture was staged, credibility, pending context, could be damaged or lost to the source, i.e. newspaper or magazine. So as a junior photography editor, I must make sure that my employees do not cross this line, and when faced with such a scenario they react with regard to themselves and the magazine. When photographs are reported in, I must research and approve them before passing them to the senior editor for layout and final print.
Mark Kegans wrote in his essay Decisive Moments “…A photographer should not manipulate, direct, or affect a situation. What exactly does this mean? In today’s fast paced INTERNET friendly world news and information can be gathered in seconds. Compared to the past, pictures, nowadays, have to convey more than just simple images. They have go beyond complimenting writing; they have to convey a message. Marshal Mcluen wrote that the medium is the message, meaning, it’s not what is said or written, the importance lies in the medium itself (photograph, television broadcast, and print). The code of ethics that used to serve as a backbone of this industry has changed, or have at least been amended. These codes have to compete with today’s incoming and high-speed media. Many times my colleges will stress the importance of “obtaining” a picture for a story, but will not give room for the photographer to create. What I mean is that they are more concerned with just getting a picture for the story rather than conveying a message in the picture. Kegans mentions this situation as one of the most important lessons a photographer will learn. Work versus artistic/social ethics.
In journalism of fact, every story and every picture must ring in as true to both the writer/photographer and the reader/viewer. Due to this inner conflict photojournalist are faced with taking pictures with meaning or taking pictures with supplemental value only, like those seen next to an article (i.e. portraits). There are no rules to guide a photographer out on assignment, no editors to ask for advice. Their decisions must be made on “the fly,” for a picture could vanish/change within seconds. This would mean that strong ethical values would have to be instilled and ready to be acted upon in an instant. So a photojournalist must have an understanding of technical elements, like composition, lighting, and lens, plus he/she must know the ethics of staging a picture versus letting fate take control. From where would this understanding come?
In a hypothetical situation, if a photographer needed a shot and did not find, initially, what they had in mind, should they stage a photo to gain their picture at a risk of integrity loss; should they react by taking as many photos as possible, knowing that they may not get what they want, under a plethora of different technical tricks, like lens change, filters, or lighting, keeping in mind that the most important aspect of all is the composition?
This example could make me nervous for photographers are like auteurs (French word for the theory that gives author to a film or picture), and many of them have no concept of composition. In a staged picture every element is, hypothetically, in a controlled enviroment that allows for the introduction of as much symbolism and metaphorical elements as possible. These pictures can convey more than the articles at times, such as the Pulitzer Prize for photography. If a viewer/reader were to deconstruct a staged picture the credibility of the writer, the photographer, and periodical would be questioned, not to mention the value of truth would decline. But on the other hand, if the same article needed pictures and staging was not the option of the photojournalist fate driven photos would be generated. Meaning that the pictures would not have artificial texture or lighting, they would remain natural, and would furthermore be overlooked by the viewer/reader as fake. There is a chance, however, that such pictures may not be as complimentary to the article. So photographers must choose between staging a photo that looks perfect with the article, but has less veridical value to it, and an almost random picture of the subject with less composition and more natural content which makes for a more sincere picture. Susan Sontag wrote that to take a picture is to limit ones view, but in photojournalism pictures can add or take away from ones view. What should photographer do: should he gamble with integrity and capture an image composed of his surroundings filled with artificial value, or should he gamble with “blowing” roles of film in order grab a natural photo at a loss of composition?
I will use the analytical system know as Dad’s Wisdom to decipher this scenario.
Sure a photograph directed and composed by a journalist will contain more information for supplementing the corresponding story, but is this the right approach? I find myself returning to the idea of truth over fiction, and what both Susan Sontag and Marshal Mcluen wrote. But at the same time part of me would want the production value of the photograph to be as powerful as the words describing it. Natural pictures also contain more value, if you know that they are natural/true. I must question still whether or not the viewer/reader will be able to perceive such allegations.
Outside of the initial concept of viewer/reader awareness, I must understand the factors that can cause such a scenario to arise. Deadlines equal out to intense amounts of pressure upon any journalist, and in a photographers case can present them with an extremely difficult dilemma. Aside from deadline pressure, there are always the external conflicts of weather, subject, time, place, and mood. Everything effects our mentality, and furthermore affects our world. Not to mention there are numerous amounts of restraints, be it company policy or legal matters, one must understand and remember in photojournalism. Privacy is one of the most important. Sure, actors and actresses have an understanding that with limelight comes flashbulbs, but they do deserve the same amount of respect as everyone else. This same courtesy should be extended to everyone regardless of his or her income, or social status.
There is always a risk of damaging someone’s reputation when taking pictures. Let’s look at several such instances. First and foremost, there are the financial representatives at stake—the publisher, editor. If a periodical were to loose face because of a picture, their value in assets would surely be tested. Misinformation in a claimed truthful magazine would result in possible lower circulation, meaning add sales would decline. At the same time, if I were to allow such a picture to pass through, I would surely be fired, or at least reprimanded. Second. When photographers steal pictures at accident scenes or other disasters, they face the destruction of identity, not theirs but the subjects of their photos. This would mean that ethically if a photojournalist stood idly by, in a scene where help was needed, he/she, would be guilty of neglect.
A photojournalist gains importance for he/she stands for the integrity of the periodical and becomes a representative of not only their actions, but also the entire actions of photojournalist everywhere. Therefore the understanding of their actions must weigh heavily upon their decision-making skills, and must fully define their loyalties. Whether it’s to the editor, or to his/her profession. Photojournalists need to find their place. I find that mine is to the Senior Editor, and not to editors as a whole; or to the periodical specifically.
Now there have to be other ways of dealing with such scenarios. In this case there are several alternative choices of action. Instead of staging or letting fate own the picture, the photojournalist could resort to file photos dealing with the same topic. This way the photojournalist can scan through a series of different pictures and pick one that fits the best; however, these pictures would not offer any guarantee of supplemental value. Another option is to offer both a staged and fate series to the editor, and force them to choose. Although this alleviates some pressure off of the photographer, it could have the same results as if he submitted only one picture. Finally, there is always the option of a portrait, which shows no action, it still provides the viewer/reader with a sense of the aesthetics of the story. The longer the photographer waits the chance of getting either fate or staged pictures decline. Meaning he/she must be quick on their feet.
Between choosing a staged photo versus one created by fate I would definitely go with the fate photo. I found that although the staged picture would allow a photographer a higher quality picture, it would come at the cost of knowing that it was staged. If nothing more than being loyal to myself, I would rather have a clean conscience than a dirty resume. I have also found that pictures take “on the fly” always look more genuine, and if I were going to limit ones view, I would do so with the least amount of negative influence as possible. The biggest problem with this decision is that it does nothing for financial or personal gain. Staged pictures compete with today’s media, while offer more eye candy also generates add sales; however, fateful photos offer a chance at truth and more importantly guarantee integrity to the periodical, which offers a personal gain to me.
I can remain in my seat with integrity.