Controversies have photojournalism world buzzing

Two issues are filling photographers’ tweets, blogs and Facebook notices this week. Both are new twists in the photojournalism industry that have interesting implications.

1–Those who want to learn photography in hot zones can pay $4000 for a workshop covering the earthquake in Haiti. Hundreds of photographers are protesting this workshop on blogs, Facebook, and Lightstalkers, a forum for those who do international photojournalism.

http://www.zoriah.net/blog/2010/02/photojournalism-workshops-haiti-earthquake-intimate-group-workshop.html

Zoriah Miller, the workshop leader, says those who disagree don’t have to sign up. Since the initial uproar, he’s added a promise to donate much of the proceeds from the workshop to a Haiti charity. The controversy has been covered by The Huffington Post, Wired.com, and others.

The general concern is whether a natural disaster of this proportion (or any proportion) should be turned into a classroom for would-be war photographers. What business do they have to be there, and what business does Miller have taking them in? There are plenty of posts against the workshop, and only Miller’s comments in his defense. No word yet whether the workshop is full.

2– Yesterday the National Press Photographers Association announced their newest board member is entertainer Drew Carey. Board members have traditionally come from NPPA’s membership of working photographers and videographers. Strong debates on the decision are taking place on NPPA’s site, blogs, Facebook and listserves.

http://nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2010/02/carey.html

The controversy is whether President Dr. Bob Carey appointed Mr. Drew Carey (no relation) as a publicity stunt. What value does Drew bring to the table? It turns out that Drew Carey is a capable photographer, owns a major league soccer team, an astute business man, and an advocate for photography and a free press.

I admit I have a dog in this fight. As Secretary of NPPA, I’ve been very involved in revamping NPPA’s governance structure. The whole point was that the old model wasn’t working, and we needed some new expertise at all levels. Starting January 1, there are 6 Board Members elected by the NPPA membership at large, three members who are appointed by the president, and the officers who are mostly elected by the Board (for details, see the NPPA Bylaws.) We wanted change, and now we have it.

The other 14 board members are  of still photographers, video photographers, photo editors, educators, and people who own design/multimedia businesses. Some are struggling, some are doing well financially. We elected lots of working journalists to the Board. Personally, I’m glad for a broad perspective coming to the table to try and make a dent in the industry’s problems. I don’t have a problem with mixing it up a little to see what happens.

I’m sure it will keep the blogs busy.

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About mcgillmedia

I take pictures and teach other people how to do it, too.
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4 Responses to Controversies have photojournalism world buzzing

  1. Denise, I’m on the fence about the H-workshop. How is it fundamentally different from other photography workshops that go to poor countries like the Truth with a Camera workshop? How is it fundamentally different from the working media who go there in search of ratings and money? What right does any outsider have to travel to natural disaster in order to take pictures or video? If a majority of the money spent goes to Haiti isn’t that a good thing? I recognize that the potential for abuse and objectification is extremely high, but not sure how a learning workshop could do any worse than much of the media coverage I’ve already seen.

    And I think Drew Carrey’s appointment should be interesting. Hopefully he’ll provide a different perspective.

    Good blog btw.

  2. mcgillmedia says:

    Hey Thom, These are good insights. Thanks for taking time to share them.

    I have to say I’m not as passionately opposed to the Haiti workshop as others are. I’m not for it, but I can see some of your points are quite valid. Miller says half the tuition will go to a charity he knows of. With the other half, he’s probably not clearing much profit once he makes all the arrangements.

    It seems that turning a mega-disaster into a living classroom is a gross objectification of the people and the situation. And isn’t it bad for extra people to be there gawking, basically as tourists, while resources and help are stretched to the limit in Haiti? It FEELS like it sets a bad precedent.

    But if someone asks, as you do, that we check everyone’s motives before they touch down in Haiti, then it’s hard to know where to draw the line exactly. Personally, I think the media has done a lot of GOOD in Haiti, getting stories out so that the rest of us can donate or pitch in as appropriate. Anyone who’s not going to help directly, or doesn’t have a good idea of where their photos/video will run, probably doesn’t have much business being there now.

  3. Sure the media has done some good but it has also done a huge amount of objectification and purely voyeuristic coverage. I would even argue that good photography is more important now as people get Haiti fatigue and the roving media move onto a new story – like Snowpocolypse.

    In a time of shrinking budgets and declining media outlets more coverage is coming from freelancers and part-time photographers. So why can’t people with the means to travel somewhere to learn to take pictures in difficult situation travel and make pictures? Frankly it’s no different than the hundreds of photographers who hopped a plane to go to Vietnam or Beirut or El Salvador or Afghanistan in the 90s in hopes of taking pictures and getting discovered. Or the opportunists who drove to LA to cover the Rodney King riots or the Riots in Miami or Haiti in the 80s.

    Maybe the issue isn’t concern for the people of Haiti but rather that beginning photographers will be learning how to navigate some of the logistics of being somewhere challenging and will therefore be better prepared for the next disaster or war, and will soon become competitors?

    Of course I don’t know the person running it, I have no idea if he has the empathy and sensitivity one would need to have to properly teach photography in such an environment. I would be worried about the safety of his students as much as I’d worry about the exploitation of the Haitians. After Haiti has been exploited by everyone for centuries. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

  4. This is a rough situation, and I thought there would be no benefit to teaching students in Haiti until I read Thom’s post. Both sides provide interesting insight. I do think it could get to an excess. Do we really need hundreds of photographers in Haiti possibly clogging up relief efforts? However, if it benefits Haiti, it could be a great thing.

    I love that Drew Carey was appointed to the board. I think it’s important to have a variety of view points. I love working on media projects with people who have experience in the field, but expertise elsewhere. They often have such unique perspectives. I hope he can benefit the organization in a great way.

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