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Photojournalism: Reviewed

Photojournalism has the benefit of not having a word limit but the difficulty of falling within ethical standards. A beautiful element of photojournalism is that it doesn’t require a translator or a literate understanding, rather, it’s meant to be unpacked in a different capacity than an article or written journalism is meant to be absorbed. Often times, it is the images we see that impact us the more than the words we read. One image I always think of when talking about photojournalism is the 1993 photo taken by Kevin Carter often called The vulture and the little girl but officially known as “Struggling Girl.” Carter’s image ran in the New York Times and is still, twenty-five years later, considered one most influential photojournalistic images in history.

However, the downside to photojournalism is the lack of context surrounding the photo. Readers of the New York Times “were eager to find out what happened to the child—and to criticize Carter for not coming to his subject’s aid,” (TIME). As TIME notes, Carter’s photo became the case argument about whether or not photojournalists should intervene. Brown contends that “photos and video images tend to generate the most heated of debates within newsrooms,” (182). One of the strongest points that Brown makes throughout the Journalism Ethics Casebook is that journalists should never insert themselves into a story. Yet in Carter’s case, many readers and journalists alike argue that there should be a fine line between being a human and being a journalist; in this case, many people think he should have helped the girl. On the contrary, I think he did exactly what he should have and all he could have. The reality of starving children in Sudan was the exact moment that Carter captured. Arguably, the photo did much more to spread the message then if he had just said he had saved a starving young girl in Sudan once. Although some people say he let the vulture attack the girl, the reality of the situation was that:“Carter had reportedly been advised not to touch the victims because of disease, so instead of helping, he spent 20 minutes waiting in the hope that the stalking bird would open its wings. It did not. Carter scared the creature away and watched as the child continued toward the center,” (TIME).

And while Carter went on to win a Pulitzer for the photograph, he also ended up taking his own life at 33-years-old. Ethical decisions about photography are much harder to gauge, particularly in the age of the Internet and audio-play videos. Brown said that

“the very nature of gathering and reporting the news means that photographers are regularly expected to go into situations involving tragedy, to cover clashes between groups of people, and record the public actions of people who wish to protect their privacy,” (Brown).

Perhaps the greatest strength and weakness of photojournalism is the power of the photos that ingrain themselves into peoples minds. Reiterating what Brown said, photojournalists have the ability not just to tell the story but to give readers a glimpse into the reality at that exact moment. Perhaps the famous tale the first silent black-and-white image of a moving locomotive is the best way to understand the vivid impact people can feel in seeing an image or a video. The 1896 film called L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, or Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, filled a movie screen in Paris, with the people in the cinema thinking it was going to drive right into them (Grundhauser). Panicking, the theater full of people bolted out the door. This point I hope to get to is that images can make people feel such intense emotions regardless if they are moving or not. In fact, perhaps the still images are even more heart-wrenching because they pause the moment forever with the viewer wondering what happened next.

Award-winning Agence France-Presse photograph taken from the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010 is one of these very images that turn your heart inside out when looking at a man throwing a corpse into a pile of dead bodies. The text accompanied with the photo, provided by World Press Photo, gives greater context just as the SPJ code of ethics would expect. Although the person inside of me cringes a little at seeing the man throw the body, that is obviously a child's, out into the pile, the journalist in me recognizes this was the reality of the 7.1 magnitude disaster. Unfortunately, I would have to say that I would run the photo taken by Olivier Laban-Mattei because it tells a story that I don’t think people would be able to necessarily describe. Even if a journalist could, I think images speak so much more than words and I think the public would see this photo and perhaps feel inclined to help in some way.

I think we (as a society) are so used to seeing brown bodies on news coverage but I also think this photo goes beyond that. This photo is an incredibly saddening snapshot of the natural disaster that hit Haiti but that could be assisted by the general public. I believe the value of running this photo would be to, hopefully, ignite some sort of action within the public rather than just running the photo with a body.

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