Over the last two days, Kiev, Ukraine has seen its worst violence since the Soviet era, with the death toll now at 75. Fighting between police and protesters escalated when protesters used Molotov cocktails and lit several fires in the city square. This video - shot on a drone - shows the epic devastation from above, and I believe this may mark a very significant turning point in photojournalism. Has the public's desire for the theatrical become too large a part of journalism?
Let's begin with the 2013 World Press Photo Contest. It's pretty hard to ignore the trends in photojournalism being pushed in the direction of more cinematic imagery and enhanced with post production (even if only through color grading). After the controversy that surrounded the winner last year (a heavy scrutiny found that the winning photo fell within the confines of the rules despite being processed onto itself multiple times), the rules this year were much stricter regarding post processing, and the winners this year are definitely different. What does this have to do with a video? I believe this speaks to journalists following suit with greater trends that are evolving the visual medium.
Paul Hansen - World Press Photo Contest 2013 Winner
John Stanmeyer - World Press Photo Contest 2014 Winner
Let's take football, for example. Years ago, football was mostly broadcast a couple of different ways and from a couple of different types of shots. We had wide shots, and we had tight shots. There were cameras mounted and locked from above and cameras on the ground. Eventually, though, video games became powerful enough that they were producing more visually interesting ways to present the experience of football. Broadcasting companies followed suit, and soon enough, cable systems were installed that allowed for cameras to fly over the field.
In the Olympics this year, drones are commonplace for many news outlets, with The Atlantic calling drones, "the future of sports photography." Drones are seemingly less and less a novelty item, not to mention the prices aren't that far fetched for something that produces decent results. A couple hundred dollars gets one's foot in the door, and at about $1000-$1500, you're able to produce some pretty amazing arial shots with GPS, wifi and camera stabilization. According to several news outlets, these types of drones will be commonplace at sports stadiums in the very near future. Pretty neat, huh?
And then there was Kiev.
The Ruptly video agency posted the above video to Youtube, and I was immediately struck with how much it reminded me of a movie. And then I wondered if that was good or bad. Honestly, I don't really know. To be fair, most of the images I've seen of the situation strike me this way, so I'm not ruling out that the content may play a large role.
Is something like this positive to news gathering? One could easily argue yes and especially on this incident in particular. An aerial camera allows people to see the story from an angle that gives it scope, thus adding to the depth and dynamic of the narrative. As photographers, we are inherent storytellers and photojournalists are often times more so than most - ideally with a flair for the dramatic. That flare can occur in multiple ways- either through color, light, timing or framing (or all of the above)- the very elements that define a photographer and the makings of a great photograph. But at what point does the flare overtake the story itself - putting more emphasis on the storytelling or even the storyteller? Should the way the narrative is told be what grabs our attention before the actual narrative does?
It can also be said that science and art have always driven each other. It's a symbiotic relationship that goes all the way back to Eadweard Muybridge and Ottomar Anschutz and their impact on photography, driven by their need to freeze motion.
Movies have often adopted a documentary feel to make things seem "more realistic" which, in turn, may have inadvertently made documentary work more like movies. Art imitating life. Robert Capa's famous images of the D-Day invasion were the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's version.
Robert Capa - D Day, 1944
Steven Spielberg - Saving Private Ryan, 1998
How are the photographers themselves injected into this equation? Should they be expected to present the news in a more dynamic way because that is what people now want or even expect? Are they doing it because they are continually expected to innovate? Or are they taking initiative and doing it on their own because they feel they are progressing their art (I have seen many Olympic images that are definitely art)? If that is the case, how large a part should artistic intentions be in certain types of photojournalism? What is the grey area? Where is the line in the sand?
There is no denying the trend toward a more cinematic approach with photojournalism, and just because the rules are constantly readjusted, it doesn't mean new avenues won't be developed to skirt around them. That being said, I don't want the crux of this argument to be interpreted as the writer's curmudgeon-esque mentality of 'why-can't-things-stay-the-same.' Obviously, innovation is a good thing, but perhaps we should evaluate the direction that the innovation is being applied. Maybe it's too early to tell, or maybe we're too close to the issue. I think the truth lies somewhere in the "we'll see" spectrum, and it's not something we may definitively be able to conclude for many years to come. I also think this year marks a very big turning point in how news will be covered, and it's certainly something to pay attention to. Oscar Wilde once said, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life," but in the case of photojournalism, is that influence a necessarily a positive one?
What are your thoughts? Do you think this is innovation or does it speak to a wider issue on the culture and our want of theatricality in our presentation of the news?
Original video via Spoid