As print media declines, what does the future hold for photojournalism? Lars Boering, MD of World Press Photo and Stephen Mayes, former MD of photo agency VII and Executive Director of the Tim Hetherington Trust, give their views
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Since the early 20th century, photojournalism has been essential for our understanding of what's really going on in the world. Photographers' images have raised awareness of important issues, revealed shocking truths and prompted people – and even governments – to take action.
Stephen Mayes believes photojournalism has an important role to play in the new media world, too. "I think it's an amazingly good time for photojournalism, together with video and audio," he says. "What's throwing everyone is that it's not a good time for earning a living in photojournalism. We haven't quite worked out the business model in the new world."
Eighteen-year-old Natalie de Wee and her parents – all from Cape Town, South Africa – saved money for several months to buy this dress, worth 220 euros. "In the following years," says photographer Ilvy Njiokiktjien, "she will rent out the dress to other girls graduating from high school for their prom." Shot on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Ilvy Njiokiktjien
Canon Ambassador Ilvy is an independent Dutch news and documentary photographer who has covered current affairs and social issues around the world for NGOs and major global publishers. She has won a Canon AFJ Award, and a World Press Photo Multimedia Award.
Effective photojournalism is about capturing striking images that represent a broader story, and sometimes demands bravery in the face of danger. Photojournalists have undoubtedly produced some of the most powerful and memorable pictures in the history of photography.
In recent years, the continuing power of the still photograph has been demonstrated by standout images –such as Nilufer Demir's 2015 photographs of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and was washed up on a Turkish beach – were shown across the media, and had a huge worldwide impact.
Tears run down Matte's face as he says a last goodbye to his best friend Pekka in Sala Sockenkyrka church, Sweden, in October 2017. They lived homeless on the streets of Stockholm for more than 20 years, calling themselves brothers. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Magnus Wennman
Canon Ambassador Magnus Wennman has been a photojournalist since the age of 17, when he started work at a local Swedish newspaper. Now a staff photographer for Scandinavia's biggest daily paper, Aftonbladet, he has won four World Press Photo awards.
Despite the success of high-profile images, today's photojournalists are facing an industry crisis. The circulations of printed newspapers and magazines are continuing to decline, so far fewer photojournalists are being paid to cover conflict zones and natural disasters, or to delve into social issues.
For World Press Photo’s Lars Boering, the disruption of the established business model is the biggest threat to photojournalism's future. "The main issue is the crisis of the media, not the crisis of photojournalism itself," he says. "Although we still see a lot of newspapers and magazines, the transformation towards using screens has almost been completed. Not all photojournalists can continue to make a living any more. There's not enough money for everybody."
"If you want to monetise visual journalism, video wins," Lars continues. "Big media organisations say video is five times easier to monetise than photography [because of its advertising opportunities], which is very telling. Also, at this time, video plays a very big role in visual storytelling and visual journalism. That means photojournalism has to redefine its platform in many ways and has to find a place where the value of photojournalism can really shine."
"Lots of good photojournalists are now creating their own social media platforms, which are connected to other big platforms that have millions of followers," he says. National Geographic photojournalist David Guttenfelder, for example, has over 1.1 million followers on Instagram. "Some also create their own foundations that do good, whether they are concerned with the environment, nature or even refugees. In a way, these photographers have a bigger reach than ever before. Through the foundations they are able to get commercial work and sustain themselves in a way that's totally within their control."
"Until now, photographers shot the images and then the magazine, newspaper or website wrote the story around it," he says. "Now, being in control means that photographers are producing an end product, which is being acquired by others. Who you are and what you do are being sought after. It's a business, so photojournalists need to be business people, then they'll have a far better chance of making it than just depending on an editor to call them. I think what's happening is the liberation of photographers – it's part of the growing up of this industry."
Nigerian migrants cry and embrace in a detention centre for refugees and migrants in Surman, Libya, in August 2016. Hundreds of women are here, in precarious conditions – the majority of them tried to get to Europe by taking smugglers' boats over the Mediterranean. Photographer Daniel Etter won third prize in the Contemporary Issues Singles category of the 2017 WPPh Contest with this image, The Libyan Migrant Trap. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens. © Daniel Etter
Photojournalism in the future
In a fast-changing media world, you have to adapt to survive, and photojournalism is entering a new era. "I see the future of photojournalism as very positive, and different in what it wants to achieve," says Stephen. "In the past, you were a photojournalist if you sold pictures to print publications. Now, if you only sell pictures to a print publication, you're not doing a great job. You should be doing other things with your life – maybe [take pictures for newspapers and magazines] four days a week, but on the fifth day you should do something else, such as making a documentary or doing some not-for-profit work. There are lots of ways of being effective in the world – it's not just about being in print."
Whether photojournalism will sink or swim in this new age remains to be seen. When asked whether he's optimistic about its future, Lars sas, "I'm very optimistic about visual storytelling, which is avoiding the question a little bit. All the new technology we see is really threatening the status quo for photojournalism and still photography. But if still photography connects itself to design and any creative means possible, then it can be the centrepiece.
"So, if you talk about visual journalistic storytelling, then the future is super bright. World Press Photo's tagline, 'connecting the world to the stories that matter', is always going to work, and we prove it on a daily basis. But if you only talk about still photography, be careful, I would say. I don't think it has a life of its own in the future. But if photojournalism is powerful enough and good enough, then it's something that will always be able to play an important role."
To watch the video and read more about the future of photojournalism, visit here.
Current and former World Press Photo jurors Thomas Borberg, Magdalena Herrera and Helen Gilks. Shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Olivia Harris
What makes award-winning photojournalism?
To identify what it takes to get the World Press Photo jury’s attention, Emma-Lily Pendleton, Editor of Canon Europe Pro sat down with three World Press Photo Contest jurors, Magdalena Herrera, director of Photography at Geo France and chair of the
World Press Photo 2018 jury, Thomas Borberg, photo editor-in-chief at Danish broadsheet newspaper Politiken, and Helen Gilks, MD of Nature Picture Library.
Emma-Lily Pendleton: When it comes to judging, what weight do you give to the story versus the aesthetics of the photograph?
Thomas Borberg: It depends on the image that you see, and the discussion within the jury. It's not necessarily a 50/50 split, it depends on the image and the story behind it.
Magdalena Herrar: There are several things that come into consideration – the surprise, the emotion, the composition, and the capture as well. That's the thing with photography – it's made up of so many parameters.
ELP: How important is the ability to edit and string a story together?
MH: You have to be able to tell your story in a good way. You have to have a start and an end, and something happening.
TB: Way too many people get this wrong, and it's too bad. Sometimes we see stories with three, four or five strong single images, but nothing that actually combines them into a narrative. Sometimes it makes you think, 'Argh, they need help!'
ELP: What is the key component of a winning image?
TB: Emotion. You need to leave people feeling something. It might not be a specific feeling, but you need to leave something so that they will keep on asking questions.
MH: There's always a dialogue between different elements. Each year, each winning image has that kind of conflict between what you see, what you feel, what it is, and what message it gives.
ELP: How important is the picture caption?
Helen Gilks: I think you absolutely don't need to read the caption to understand a strong story. In fact, if I look at a story portfolio, I don't want to see any text at all – I want to look and know, roughly, what the story is. If you don't, it hasn't been done well. Captions are almost for verifying afterwards what your initial impressions are, and for more background information.
ELP: The rules of World Press Photo have become stricter [since 2016], with regards to staging and manipulation, and photo editing. How tough is the verification process?
MH: Very tough. Every file is checked technically, then all the captions are checked and double-checked by an independent factchecking team. They will sometimes then interview the photographer and check the news. It's pretty serious, and sometimes it's a little bit too tough, but they have to do that today. In the times of fake news, more than ever you have to be tough on [manipulation], to be credible.
TB: I think the World Press Photo Contest is an ambassador for truth and trust, not only on behalf of World Press Photo, but all professional photographers, especially photojournalists. You can't be almost right, or just a little fake – it's either there or it's not.
ELP: What would you say to people who are considering entering next year?
MH: This year as a chair I asked all the jury members what they were looking for and 90% of them told me they were looking for new, challenging approaches. Not just in terms of technique, but also in the photographers' point of view about what's happening in the world. In the Environment category, for instance, and Long-Term Projects, you have to step in and bring your perspective to the story. By that, I don't mean staging or anything like that – I mean showing your own reflection on the topic. It's about how you place yourself. What distance, what degree of intimacy. Should the story be told with a sense of humour? This is what I mean by a new approach, or your own approach.