Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Foremost, I need to emphasize that photojournalism, at the upper levels of the practice, is something far greater than the intersection of light, composition and moment. These are academic blocks of the discipline that are a given in any good photograph, but do not necessarily add up to reportage. I am a reporter in the truest sense of the word; I research my stories beforehand, I ask questions, I listen, I make connections with the facts that I know, and I try to determine what the relationships are. For me, the relationships are the key to the formula: discovering what they are and capturing them is what elevates a photograph to photojournalism. How does a person who is infected with AIDS view themselves, or their family? How does that dynamic change if their entire family is HIV positive? What about their entire community? Is a mother's caress more or less tender if she knows that she hasn't infected her baby? How does an eleven-year-old girl relate to a world that does not include parents, education or opportunity?
Good journalism, whether writing or photography, is about the reporting. My process is not unlike that of the writer. The obvious difference is that we work in a different medium, but there are finer distinctions as well. I work in the present, and I work directly with my subject. That proximity informs the work in a way that cannot be duplicated with any other method. One needs to stand there watching as a seven-year-old boy suddenly grows beyond his years in order to comfort his father's widow. If one bears witness as a boy too young for the task comforts and protects the mother who has done it for him throughout his short life, then their loss can be understood with greater depth and brought into the story. The writer might be there to see it, but the photojournalist will be there, because the photojournalist, myself, cannot do the work any other way.
The perspective that I bring to a story, whether I use the camera or write, will emphasize the human response within the larger framework. I can do the research that may produce the context, "40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, and two-thirds are in Southern Africa".
But to illustrate how they live with it I will give you quotes and pictures of the HIV positive pastor who has to perform funerals for the members of his congregation that die of AIDS. In this respect the perspective grows out of the methodology, which in turn informs the story. What makes this unique, and ultimately more intriguing is that one does not lose sight of the human component of the story, even when tackling complicated issues.