Photojournalism or Photography? Much more than Tomato – Tomahto

Reader Fred Bonilla has written a few articles that we’ve posted here, and we always welcome his thoughtful perspective.

Enhancing The Truth Or Manipulating The Truth
by Fred Bonilla

A few months ago, I wrote a blogpost for Photoinduced asking if the phrase
“digital photography” is redundant or should it be left intact to distinct
itself from analog picture taking.The responses were interesting and hinted
towards a larger question: what can actually be categorized as photography
itself ?

The past week that NY Times photographer Damon Winter has experienced is a perfect case in point.


Soldiers of the 87th Infantry © Damon Winter for The New York Times

Damon Winter is arguably among the best feature photojournalists working today.Having worked with several publications and with Magnum before landing with the New York Times, he was among the finalists for a Pulitzer Prize for his work on sexual abuse victims in Alaska in 2005. And this week, he was again
recognized for his work, having just received the designation of “Photographer
of the Year”
from the Pictures of the Year International Competition after
nabbing earlier in the week a Third Place finish for his feature story on the
day to day life of soldiers in the 87th Infantry Regiment stationed in Afghanistan. He has received
considerable criticism for his work on the latter article, for it was taken using an IPhone using the Hispamatic app.
While many have praised his work for accurately capturing the feel and atmosphere of their lives while in combat, others have roundly criticized him for using the app to manipulating the image
to falsely convey the actual visual surroundings of his subjects and think he
should be disqualified from receiving the award. Some question whether if in
fact the work even qualifies as photojournalism.

Others even question the use of of a phone to capture images that merit
journalistic consideration. It seems fairly snobbish to me, for in my eyes, any
device used to capture in the mind’s eye a quality image can be used to advance
your desired purpose.

Mr Winter commented in defense of his work in the NY Times photo blog “Lens”:

“Using the phone is discreet and casual and unintimidating. The soldiers
themselves often take pictures of one another with their phones and that was
the hope of this essay: to have a set of photos that would almost look like
those snapshots — but through a professional eye.The beauty of a new tool is
that it allows you to see and approach your subjects differently. Using this
phone brought me into little details that I would have missed otherwise. The
image of the men resting together on a rusted bed frame could never have been
made with my regular camera. They would have scattered the moment I raised my
5D with a big 24-70 lens attached. But with the phone, the men were very
comfortable. They always laughed when they saw me shooting with it while
professional cameras hung from my shoulders.

On the other hand, photographer Chip Litherland echoed the sentiments of many
others when he wrote on his blog:

“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”.

If you have a moment, take a look at the work in question: The article is called
“A Grunt’s Life” and was published in the NY Times last November.
You can also see Mr. Litherland’s blog post with his criticism and other opinions.

Then, tell us what you think. Was Damon Winter’s use of the app in his photos
justified? Do you believe that a photo is not REALLY a photo unless it was taken
with a camera? Do you think that apps like Hipsmatic alter the reality of a
photograph? Discuss among yourselves…

My two cents? The work in the Times was bold & innovative and blended seamlessly
with the written article, which is the whole point. While the app is not my cup
of java, it worked well to tell the story and stands alone as excellent work.
Photojournalism in the classic sense? No, but photojournalism nonetheless.

Thanks again,Damon for allowing me the forum to get this out!

What’s up on your photographic mind? Let us know if you’d like to contribute to this site.
Always good to share.

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