This paper examines the impact of technological and digital advances on photojournalism. Through a series of in-depth interviews it seeks to discover how today’s changing media environment affects a photographer’s technique, professional role, ethical and moral understanding, and training. The author is Maria Lundin Osvalds, a Swedish photojournalist currently based in the UK. You can contact Maria at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bearing Witness in the digital age is the outcome of a research fellowship at the LSE supported by the Swedish Journalistfonden. It was edited by Professor Charlie Beckett, director of Polis, the LSE’s international journalism think-tank. The views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Polis or the LSE.
Here are the key findings:
1 The changing media environment has a significant impact on a photographer’s professional role and practice. The interviews reveal many examples of how photographers experience this impact. One is advances in photography equipment or ‘gear’, meaning photographers can do their work more efficiently and effectively. For example, some cameras can capture information in almost pitch-black conditions.
2 Digital platforms and social media channels change how and what images are published, influencing the professional workload of several of the participants and their communication with their audience.
3 Participants were concerned about credibility. They said that most photographers understand that an image is an interpretation of an event rather than a true and objective representation of reality. However, there is concern that the public considers images as objective representations of reality. Participants reflect on the tensions between these differing views and how this affects photojournalism. In the light of this complexity of perceptions, participants point to how important it is for them to give their own interpretation of reality. With the tools at their disposal – technology and their presence on site – they seek to “bear witness.”
4 The relationship between the photographer and those being photographed is changing. Many participants see positive changes, such as a different power dynamic, and others mention people›s concerns about having images published on digital channels.
5 A common thread in the interviews, albeit often implicit and interwoven in participants’ reflections, relates to moral approaches regarding their professional role and the public. The complex and changing nature of society, including technological advances, suggests that photojournalists must redefine their practice. The report identifies some of the necessary themes that should be discussed during the training of photojournalists and within the industry.
6 Participants said that the very definition of photography is being challenged as our visual culture and communication methods develop.
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