My formal photography training, such as it is, comes from a journalism focus, and I find that 30 years later it still influences my approach to photography a great deal. In this case, I took several photos of this bucket of bolts before I realized that the tiny dried up plant that was growing in the midst of this metal was not adding to the photo I was trying to capture. Yes, it was interesting in its own right to some extent, but it wasn’t really prominent enough to add to the photo, and rather merely detracted. So I finally plucked it out and got the picture I wanted, but only after consciously telling myself that it was OK to do so.
Now, when I say journalism, I mean a style of news reporting that isn’t much heard of any more. Perhaps few people even know these days that once upon a time news reporters and news organizations tried to be “objective” (if they were honest about what it meant to to the job well, at least).
One of the consequences of objectivity is that in news photography it is important to attempt to represent the scene being photographed as it really is, not focus on being artistic or delivering a particular viewpoint. So when I approach photography even to this day, I have trouble remembering that I am not photographing news, but trying to produce something of artistic value. I have difficulty remembering that it’s OK to move things to create better shadows, or to remove something entirely if it doesn’t fit with the image I’m trying to create.
Of course, the days of objective journalism are a dim memory now, as the likes of Rupert Murdoch strove to tilt news reporting obscenely into a specific political viewpoint. Rival news organizations responded by tilting obscenely in the other direction. The public, looking primarily I suspect for sources to validate their own feelings, followed one direction or the other and the job of actually telling the news has become unprofitable.
It’s a spiral that I don’t think can last indefinitely. Eventually the news, from whatever viewpoint, becomes propaganda, and the public – however much they may think their viewpoint needs validation – has never been willing to be fed propaganda for long periods of time. But for now, we seem content. We even seem to demand to be fed lies that justify our own perspective.
And so we are fed “news” photographs where subject matter is plucked out of the image, or inserted into it, in order to strengthen the message we want to say – rather than the message that exists. We are given nuts and bolts, without the tissue of life, and truth, to get in the way of our opinions.