The life of a photojournalist was in news this week for two rather distinct reasons – the gang rape of the Mumbai photojournalist at Shakti Mills and closer home, dna hosted a news photo exhibition of photographers Pankaj Shukla and Piyush Patel in the city – perhaps the first-of-its-kind, at least in recent times in Gujarat.
As much as showcasing the work, the purpose was to bring to fore the life and work of a photojournalist, which is grossly underrated and often not registered. Newseum – a museum dedicated to news industry in Washington DC – has a beautiful section dedicated to news photographs (updated regularly), which tell as much if not more about recent news happenings around the world.
Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder but news photography is art generated in a hurry. The very popular line ‘A picture speaks a thousand words’ is with very good reason. The nuances of a moment that a picture can capture, along with multiple sub-texts and hues that leave a lot for the viewer to interpret, gives a photograph the perpetuity that prose has a challenge to match.
As news media professionals, we are increasingly grappling with reducing attention span of readers, especially with the speedy penetration of smart phones and the ensuing ease technology brings with it. Why would I read text of 600 words (for 2-3 minutes approximately) to know about a criminal’s profile, for instance, when looking at a photograph of that (wo)man for less than a second tells me facts words may omit? Aided by a telling caption, one needn’t be Sherlock Holmes to get nuanced interpretations.
Does that sound depressing for the news industry? Even if it does, it’s a reality one has to deal with. Over 300 people were fired en-masse by at least two leading news channels in India last month. Not to remind one of the western countries’ newspaper industries, which have been reduced to nearly a quarter of its peak presence.
Some may question why am I even writing this – is it to underline the importance of photographs or to aimlessly crib about the challenges presented by changing technology? It’s the former in context of the latter.
During and after our exhibition this week, I realised even au fait readers unknowingly undermine the importance of visual representation. A lot of focus goes on the stated word because it categorically tells you what to think, but the photograph gives you scope to go beyond the stated obvious.
The obvious of a visual image is more in your face than the written word, but the challenge is to go beyond that. And here’s the silver line – to bring all those memories, implication and allusions of that image to make the complete picture in his mind, Holmes read a lot (and a lot) of prose.
Back to our humble artists in hurry, a typical day for a photojournalist will require him to frantically rush all over the city, jostling for space amidst hostile crowds to capture ‘the’ moment. To get a print of that action, expression, or that tear or smile is a once in a lifetime opportunity – which is as often missed as it is pocketed.
Prose commands articulation from the writer, but a photograph shifts this onus on the viewer. Evolution of technology and changing mediums giving more scope to visual communication are therefore as much an opportunity to see unseen stories on the go, as also a threat that many of these undertones may never be comprehended. And this is not merely an Indian phenomenon but a global one. The question really is are we yet ready for it?