Photojournalism enters a golden age
As the importance of real-time news and images rise, photojournalism is gaining greater cultural currency.
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Particularly now, in an era of self-publishing and so-called "citizen" journalism, with everyday folks feeding the news cycles with impromptu snapshots, today's credibility issues revolve around the idea of "experts," says Douglas Rea, professor of photojournalism at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. "This generation is highly skeptical of everything they see," he says. The struggle for today's professional photojournalists is to be seen in the vast sea of visual information, he says.Skip to next paragraph
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The exhibition's Annenberg berth is one opportunity to be seen, says POYI director Rick Shaw. Traditionally, the winning photos would be on display at the University of Missouri for a brief time "and that would be it," he says. In his five-year tenure to date, Mr. Shaw says he has tried to transform POYI into a teaching tool. "I've wanted to find a way to extend its reach," he says, pointing out that these professionals face "additional pressures coming from the fact that the world is glutted with visual imagery, and there are fewer and fewer meaningful gatekeepers."
The competition and others like it have detractors, those who maintain that the very need to stand out has led the contest to focus increasingly on "the marginal, the poor and dispossessed," says Steve Raymer, a National Geographic Magazine photographer for more than two decades and POYI winner in 1976. In his current teaching post at Indiana University in Bloomington, he says he tries to send the message that "you don't need to go to the remotest parts of Africa and Asia to tell an important story." This pressure to cover the "exotic" has led many young photojournalists to ignore the important stories closer to home, he adds.
But Patricia Lanza, Annenberg director of talent and content, says the POYI show has balance. She points to the quiet photo of Barack Obama and his wife and says, "there are important stories everywhere. We want to send the message that the passion to tell an important story through pictures is a valuable and noble effort, one that shouldn't get overwhelmed or lost as the world drowns in everyday pictures."
• POYI runs through Nov. 1. For a gallery of winners, go to www.poyi.org/65/winners.html.