So do you think this is photojournalism?
If the answer is yes, then what we knew as photojournalism at it’s purest form is over and POYi just killed it. Well, they didn’t kill it so much as just dig another knife deeper into the back of its decaying corpse. It’s time to really address the crossroads we’re at in photojournalism and figure out where it’s headed versus what it was.
I think it’s fair to say I’ve made my thoughts on the Hipstamatic app clear. Here. The fact that Damon Winter’s “Grunt’s Life” was just awarded a third place at POYi is a game changer. The fact it was shot on a phone isn’t relevant at all and fair game, but what is relevant is the fact it was processed through an app that changes what was there when he shot them. It’s now no longer photojournalism, but photography. That transition happens when images become more about the photographer and less about the subject of said photos.
Contest judges respond to visuals first. Then they read the caption. Sometimes. It’s not really fair to pick on judges because contests are subjective and they can pick what they like with a simple “in” or “out.” However, there isn’t enough discussion over the process of making images and how much the photographer’s hand really made the photo after the fact. Keyword being “after.” Hand-of-God has always been a crutch to making mediocre imagery become contest worthy. The last couple years of contests have really been laughable with certain award winners. It’s to a point now where the more esoteric you can be with themes and the more proficient you at using Photoshop makes you rise above the rest. Storytelling is about 4th or 5th down the list.
I have a Photoshop action on my desktop that is titled “POYi filter” I made it as a joke. It rotates an image 20 degrees, adds a heavy vignette, throws in a bit of grain, and converts to grayscale. Pretty sweet. I can send it your way for a small fee…
I hesitate even writing this because Damon Winter is a personal photo hero of mine and friend. I worked with him at the Dallas Morning News when I was an intern and he’s personally shaped me as a photographer. His work is absolutely stunning, and he truly is one of the strongest photojournalists working today. I even love this particular series of photos, but it shouldn’t have been allowed – even with the Hisptawhatever borders cropped. I didn’t even enter a single contest this year, so I don’t have a horse in this race.
The more that the World Press Photo, POYi, NPPA, etc. continue awarding these images, the more photojournalism can be written about in the past tense. Maybe it should be.
It’s history after all.