Friday, January 21, 2011

Rescuing Photojournalism

Jed Perl writes in The New Republic: Yesterday’s Heroes

Can We Rescue Great Photojournalism From the Scourge of Sensationalism?


"The skepticism about photojournalism has become so pervasive that some counterbalance is needed, and so, I have been glad to see new work on the subject by Susie Linfield, who writes on cultural matters, and Peter Galassi, the curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art. Neither Linfield nor Galassi has any interest in the old romantic view of the photojournalist as a prophetic voice. In a sense, their essential point is relatively modest, for what they are saying is that photojournalists, while not necessarily truth tellers, are not necessarily liars, either."
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"Linfield’s new book—The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence (University of Chicago Press)—is a beautifully considered and unabashedly impassioned plea for the continuing moral relevance of photojournalism. Writing in direct response to ever-increasing doubts about the truthfulness and ethical significance of photojournalism, Linfield offers a defense of photojournalism that honors the photographers without turning them into saints or their work into sacred icons. On the subject of photojournalism, both Galassi and Linfield might be said to be disabused optimists."

“The earliest photojournalists,” Linfield observes in The Cruel Radiance, “expected images of injustice to push viewers into action; photographs were regarded not as expressions of alienation but as interventions in the world.” That optimism, she is perfectly aware, is no longer sustainable. But she argues that our skepticism should not become “an argument for not looking, not seeing, or not knowing, nor for throwing up one’s hands or shielding one’s eyes.”

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We should not “drown in bathos or sentimentality,” Linfield insists, but instead “integrate emotion into the experience of looking.” We “can use emotion as an inspiration to analysis rather than foment an eternal war between the two.”

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