The Iphone killed the photojournalist.

A drastic statement as it is, it is also the view by some photojournalists relating to the use of the Iphone combined with the app Hipstamatic. This is all coming to a head because in October Hipstmatic the San Francisco Smartphone photography application launches its foundation for photojournalism, along with the release of a pack of digital lens and film filters designed with Ben Lowy.

An example of Ben Lowy’s photojournalism work using Hipstamatic

Ben Lowy is a photojournalist whos made headlines when his Hipstamatic images documenting life in Afghanistan were published in the New York Times Magazine last fall

The foundation will teach a new generation of how to take photojournalistic images using hipstamatic.

The question that is being hotly debated among photographers is how this way of documenting events around the world effect photojournalism.

Photojournalism is a bastion of truth in the media. Although the camera is as biased as the photographer and the context in which the image is taken and framed, photojournalism has been the pictorial evidence to back up and supplement a news article.

Hipstmatic is good for photojournalism

A fly on the wall

Left: Lance Cpl. Kevin Daly during a military operation near Doghaka village in Musa Qala district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Nov. 7, 2010. Right: Ali Mohammad, a 10-year-old refugee from Kandahar province, stands in front of his makeshift house in the Charahi Qambar refugee camp in Kabul on Feb. 27.

 With a smart phone you are able to be much more inconspicuous. During the Arab spring some of the images would not have been captured with a traditional camera. The raising of a camera has an effect on people their demeanor changes, they shy away. With a smartphone they either don’t know the picture is being taken or they are more cooperative because the camera looks less aggressive. To be in Syria or Iran where there is tight media control smartphones are less obvious. The smartphone camera becomes a natural choice and with the speed to share to news agencies, who then can have more up to date and clear information.

A filter is just like choosing a camera a film and a lens

Aesthetics of the image is one of the arguments that the filter creates a false image but yet all cameras create a false image. The human eye cannot see with an aperture of F1.2 with a shallow depth of field or in black and white. Therefore there is no difference in using an Instagram filter.

It’s not what you have but how you use it

Similar to “the best camera you have is the one you have got” in the end the camera is a tool to capture your vision. It doesn’t matter if it is a pinhole, holga, DSLR or a smart phone. As long as the image is conveyed with the right meaning then where is the problem.

Reportage already distorts history, as all photography distorts its reality

A famous event that never happened

Photography has an ability to distort reality and when it comes to photojournalism you have to be careful how much you distortion your images have. Your image is a possible propaganda tool. You can easily say there is no fighting in Syria by pointing your camera away from the fighting. So how does a filter on an app affect the picture? It just adjusts the colour and contrast to improve the image not hide the truth.

Most people expect an image to be doctored in some way

In the last 10 – 15 years the mythology behind the image being truth has been shattered. People know pictures have been altered and adapted to make the best image and people come to expect it.

A new visual language

Miley Cyrus using Instagram

Hipstamatic is the part of the visual language in the age of social media. Lots of users are using Hipstmatic and Instagram sharing their lives and truths through the apps. Using the same apps can be a visually easy way for the new citizens of social media to simply understand and process the information in the images. Motography journalism is just connecting to a new audience.

The story is everything

Damon Winter won an award in photojournalism for his series of soldiers in Nahr-i-Sufi, Afghanistan,

One of my favourite mantras is “The images is everything.”. With photojournalism it is the story. The picture or seires of images must tell the story completely and truthly. To convey the message with the help of your smart phone and an app makes the it stronger then you have done your job.

Can people tell the difference from an Iphone and a Leica image

Which image is from a Leica and which is from an Iphone

If you were to show a picture to someone would they be able to tell you what camera shot the image. The answer is probably not, so why does it make a difference if a picture was shoot on a smartphone or not.

New tech is always met with objections

“A certain type of confusion about the relationship between scientific discoveries and art, leads to a frequently asked question: Is photography an art? The answer is: No. It is a technical, not a creative, skill. Art requires a selective re-creation. A camera cannot perform the basic task of painting: a visual conceptualization, i.e., the creation of a concrete in terms of abstract essentials. The selection of camera angles, lighting or lenses is merely a selection of the means to reproduce various aspects of the given, i.e., of an existing concrete.”
– Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto, 1971.

A Hipstamic photo which was part of an exhibtion in London’s Orange Dot Gallery

Since the dawn of photography each new evolution has been met with scepticism. Artists dismissed (and even some still do) the medium of photography. The Daguerreotypists objected to the process of the Calotype and when photography evolved to colour the black and white purists stood above and said it wasn’t photography. Now we have the arguements about if smartphone photography is even photography. The same debates just a different evolution in the medium.

Against the use of smartphone images in photojournalism

Toning and colouring change the feel of the image why not shoot it straight

Instagram before and after

Is there a need for these filters to be applied to an image. If the picture is strong with the context and the composition, telling the story with impact, why add a filter? Photojournalism has always tried to keep manipulation to a minimum but with smartphones and the use of apps the image is altered straight after it is taken.

Distortion of history through nostalgia

Most of the filters used in the apps add a nostalgic edge to an image. This edge is carried through in the reading of the image and begins to separate the viewer’s reading of the image from its message. By adding a filter you can make the image more fictionalised than what is expected or make the timing of the event to be different from the reality.

BENGAZI, LIBYA – 03 20 2011 Libyan Rebels Stand Amidst the Rubble of Destroyed Gaddafi Army Vehicles iPhone Photo by Benjamin Lowy

A gimmick that helps to sell the image

This is just a gimmick which help sells the image to news companies. All over the media there is a loving for social media and smart phones. You can see it in articles constantly praising these new technologies reading like press releases. They Iphones, galaxies and the rest are fashion items which people have become loyal to and the media knows this using it to gain viewers and readers. Stating that an image was captured on a smartphone is a selling point of a media company to attract readers. Even my post has played into that using the title I have used.

Many people I know have taken average images and then added filters to try and make the image more than it is. At first they look good but after viewing 500 images all looking the same they becoming boring.  Think the same could be said for journalistic images through the hipsta/instagram app. People will become apathetic to the images and then ignore their importance when it matters. With apathy comes desensitising of the image. The image is no longer shocking or informative, it is just another image

When you don’t have control of your image it has no value

When you take a picture you have control of the image but when you hand it over to an app you pass the control over to the program. The program is now in charge of the image. You can choose the filters but the final image has been predetermined. Whereas when you take the image with a DSLR or film camera you can make changes as the image needs them with the freedom to do so.

With the filters the images become standardised. The filters will then hold their own values, this filter means this and this means that. The image is no longer a (insert your name) image, it is now a Lo-Fi filter image or a vintage image.

It is about the qualification not the quality

The debate about Hipsta/instagram images in photo journalism is not only about the quality of the image but about the qualification of the image. Photojournalists are highly trained professionals (we are not talking about paps following celebrities) and they follow a moral and ethical code to create images portraying as best as they can the truth of a situation. The photographer focuses the meaning of the image through a simple visual language. With an acceptance of creating images using these apps may lead to a more acceptable form of Citizen Photojournalism. Citizens creating photos that then become news images can be good especially in a situation when a photojournalist is not there for example during the London 7/7 bombings of the London. A wider trend of any image being taken and then becoming a photojournalistic image has a fundamental impact on photojournalism and the trust we can have in these images. If I see my neighbour’s house being broken into I ring the police, this makes me a good citizen not a police officer or the justice system.

The debate continues

This is an on-going debate that does not just include photojournalism but the place that smartphone cameras fill in photography.

I can side with using a smartphone in certain instances especially when a DSLR may not be appropriate but I don’t understand the lure of using Hipstgram or instagram to edit them. This is something I will have to keep looking in on before I can make my mind up.

What’s your take on the use of smartphones, Hipstamatic and Instagram in Journalism?

Let me know and continue the debate below.

9 thoughts on “The Iphone killed the photojournalist.

  1. Was it Ansel Adams who said the most important part of photography is located a few inches behind the camera? Definitely the case, most of the time. Everyone can produce something interesting some of the time. Some people can produce something interesting most of the time. A photographer is someone who produces something of quality almost all of the time – be it through storytelling, moment capturing or other. There will always be value in a good photojournalist, but the lines will continue to blur on the fringes and in some situations even toward the core. Good post, Ben.

    • I think you are right that a photogrpaher will almost everytime capture somehting interesting.

      Although i haven’t yet made up my mind about Smartphones and Hipstamic/instagram images in photojournalism, I do feel that their importance might be lost beind the filter. Will good informative images be dismissed for others who have a certian style or toneing?

      Thank you for your comment.

      • Yeah, man, any time. There’s something funny going on with media and imaging an art these days. It’s almost more important to build a brand or moreso a concept that resonates. If you can do that, you can make your work seem, and therefore become, valid. Sometimes a vantage point doesn’t need to be historically good or new to create interest or demand attention. Sometimes it does. We’re in the midst of this hyper-changing atmosphere where people will either find context in what a photographer or artist is doing, or they won’t. But reach them enough times, and they may follow through on understanding your point of view. Maybe that was all that was important in the first place, as people shrugged off impressionists and many others over the course of time, only to see them evolve into what they’ve become regardless or initial perception. What I do know for certain is anything that is mass produced loses value, but there is still value in some images. Those will just be harder to find and more precious over time.

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