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Anorak | The news business dies without its photographers

The news business dies without its photographers

by | 30th, June 2013

**FILE** U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment of the Fifth Division raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, in this file photo of Feb. 23, 1945. A search team is on the island of Iwo Jima looking for a cave where the Marine combat photographer who filmed the famous World War II flag-raising 62 years ago is believed to have been killed in battle nine days later, military officials said Friday, June 22, 2007. Sgt. Willam H. Genaust, a combat photographer, used a movie camera to film the raising of the flag atop Mount Suribachi, standing just feet away from AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, who took this iconic photograph. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal, File)

 

DO you recognise this photograph?

It was taken on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, at 12.15pm on February 23, 1945. Joe Rosenthal used a Speed Graphic camera set between f8 and f11 with a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second.

The picture earned him a Pulitzer prize and today, 68 years later, it is still reckoned to be the most reproduced photograph of all time. It has even been recreated in bronze as a memorial to the US Marines outside the Arlington national cemetery in Virginia.

Rosenthal was a professional press photographer, at the time working for the Associated Press, and was one of two (the other was from  Newsweek ) on the little island with the Marines at this key moment of the Second World War. Within 18 hours the picture was being published in hundreds of newspapers across the world.

coins
Do you recognise this photograph?
If you read a newspaper or look on the web and have any interest in finance, pensions, care homes, property, heating bills, social benefits, the chances are that you’ll have seen it at least once. SubScribe can’t help with the photographer or the circumstances of the session, other than that at least one other picture was taken and distributed.
The picture has a certain elegance, the slim wrinkled hand, the long fingers undistorted by arthritis, the manicured, painted nails. But it hardly captures a moment in history. Yet it has been used in papers and on websites over and over again.
Since 2009, the Sun has used it four times, the BBC four, the Guardian andHuffington Post six. I’ve placed it myself in The Times, as have my successors. ITV.com and the Express are really in love with it. They’ve used it 15 times apiece – three times in three weeks last March, in the case of theExpress.
 
So what’s so special about it that it has such constant and universal appeal?
It’s free.
estate agents boards
You’ll have seen this one or a version of it too. The street of estate agents’ boards must be the ultimate in stock shots. House prices are of great interest to most people (almost as great and almost as many as the  Express  thinks) so stories about them going up, down or even stabilising eat up forest of newsprint. And they have to be illustrated. Unless you have a willing case study, it’s complicated to find a specific house to photograph, so we all fall back on the boards or bunches of keys.
It gets a bit tiring after a while and telephone codes change, estate agents merge or go out of business, so the pictures need rethinking, reworking or at the very least updating. For that you have to have a photographer. And photographers cost money. Much cheaper to stick with the agency shots and take what you’re given.
chickfil
Stock shots have their place. They are readily accessible and a godsend when you have a difficult subject to illustrate, but they have no place in live news stories where the reader wants an image of the event. If you use one in such circumstances it is tantamount to admitting that you missed the story, couldn’t get there on time or didn’t have anyone to send.
The picture above shows how the  Chicago Sun-Times  presented the story when people queued round the block for a freebie chickenburger. The picture below, of customers waiting outside the diner,  is the rival  Tribune ‘s effort.
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OK, so it’s not the liveliest of pictures, though the two men in the foreground have charm. But at least it was taken on the spot and isn’t a handout picture of a burger.
The reason for the difference has been well documented the  Sun-Times sacked its entire 28-strong picture department at the end of last month with the explanation that online readers wanted more videos and so the organisation had to change things round to facilitate that. But what about still pictures? Ah, reporters with iPhones and agencies would have that little problem covered.
The decision has been greeted with alarm and astonishment on both sides of the Atlantic. Which is apt because it is alarming and astonishing. A newspaper/website without a picture department? How can that work? How can any organisation lay off the likes of John H. White, below, another Pulitzer prize winner and hero to thousands?
white
White, 68, had worked at the Sun-Times for 35 years, and also taught photojournalism at two colleges.  In 1974, at a time when race issues still explosive in many parts of America, he was commissioned by the Environment Protection Agency to document the lives of  African Americans who mainly lived in the deprived areas on the south side of the city. The community that emerged from his photographs was undoubtedly struggling, but it was also one capable of exuberance and grace.
whitepic
White was awarded the Pulitzer prize for feature photography in 1982 for ‘consistently excellent work’. His portfolio included the picture above taken in the notorious Cabrini Green high-rise housing project, which has since been bulldozed. On accepting the award, he said: ‘I don’t really take pictures. I capture and share life. Moments come when pictures take themselves.’
His trophy cabinet also houses the Chicago medal of merit, five photographer of the year awards, three headliner of the year awards. White was also the first photographer to find a place in the Chicago journalism hall of fame. A shining star without doubt, but not the only one in the constellation. The scale of what the paper has thrown away is laid out in  this article from American Photo magazine .
chicagosky
Chicago (as seen by White, above) regards itself as America’s second city. A lot happens there it’s the world of Al Capone and of Barak Obama. History has been made there time and again, and local photographers have been there to record it. Not any more.
Of course there are always agency photographers Joe Rosenthal who took the Iwo Jima picture was one but if you rely on them you are never going to have an exclusive on your own patch. And when you have a powerful rival like the doorstep like the  Tribune , that’s a risky position to put yourself in.
In the era of point-and-press megapixel cameras, we all think we’re photographers; we share our efforts on Facebook and some of them are not bad. But we haven’t been trained to choose the right angle, the right exposure, to judge the right moment as professionals have. Nor have the Sun-Times  reporters.
It’s bringing the DIY mentality into the professional arena. How hard is it to wield a paintbrush to brighten up the spare room? Not hard, but someone who has been taught how to

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