A lot of wedding and portrait photographers, myself included, use the term “photojournalistic” as a style descriptor when explaining our approach to documenting wedding events or other non-newsy assignments. In reality, I think “documentary” would be a better word to describe my style, but that makes people think of moving pictures (a la PBS) and then everyone’s confused again.
The real photojournalists should be irritated by this. If I were an actual photojournalist, shooting assignments where I could be in danger, or in situations where I am not necessarily welcome…certainly not encouraged or fed (like most wedding/portrait photographers typically are)…yeah, I’d be miffed.
Photojournalism takes a certain heartiness of soul and objectivity toward the craft…it’s not for the weak. I, personally, am a wimp when it comes to human suffering (and don’t get me started on injured animals.) I can’t program my heart to feel that photography is more important than people’s immediate need for nourishment or sympathy. But my head knows that the photographs are the essential part of preventing bad things from repeating themselves…of telling the story of a horrible situation in a way that words never could…of educating the non-sufferers of their unawareness of fellow human struggles. I wish I could be tough like Dorthea Lange…take the photos, share them with the world…bring help to those who need it by projecting it from the mountaintops with photographs that inspire others to help.
But I’m not that tough. Not yet, anyway. I like being invited to photograph my subjects. For my process, a relationship beyond the camera produces the best results.
Reading the headlines today about thousands who will flock to Oak Creek, WI to mourn the six Sikh worshippers who were gunned down by a madman last week, I thought to myself, “I wish I could go photograph this.” I know I could do it. The photos would probably be amazing. I’m sure it would be legal. But, in the end, I’d rather leave my camera in the car and just stand with them, be part of a community of good people who mourn not only the loss of these innocent souls but, perhaps more disturbingly, the twisted state of our civilization that something this awful happened at all. It’s not in my nature to put the camera on those who are suffering. But I completely admire those brave photographers, the real photojournalists, who can and do document the tough stuff so that the rest of us may learn, feel, and act in response to all that we have left to fix in our world.