“Who Needs Photographers Anymore?” Part 4: The World Still Needs Photographers

Hey Gang, it’s your boy Tim——This is Part 4 of a 4 part series where I’ve been discussing my opinion on the current state of photography—specifically documentary photography. If you haven’t yet read my first three posts, please consider doing so before going any further: Part 1,Part 2, Part 3

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O’Connor

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Catherine Leroy getting ready to jump with the 173rd Airborne for operation “Junction City”, Vietnam, 1967. Leroy was 21 years old.

Catherine Leroy was a French born photographer who became the first accredited journalist to parachute into combat during the Vietnam War. Leroy was so moved by images of the war that she bought a one way ticket to Laos with the mission to “give war a human face“. During her combat coverage, Leroy was injured by shrapnel but later returned to the field—only to be captured by enemy troops. She somehow talked her way out and became the first photojournalist to capture images of the North Vietnamese Regular Army behind enemy lines. This story—along with her other stunning images were published in Life Magazine.

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“Corpsman in Anguish” — Photo By Catherine Leroy — Vietnam, 1967
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Photo By Catherine Leroy — Vietnam

 

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“Vietcong Prisoners In The Mekong Delta” — Photo By Catherine Leroy — Vietnam, 1966
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“Marine Screaming In Pain” — Photo By Catherine Leroy — Vietnam, 1967

I have a photo of Leroy hanging on my case at work. It’s a reminder that, whenever I think things are bad—a pigtailed 21 year old woman parachuted into a war zone and was able to capture iconic emotionally moving images—on film, with a manual camera (Leica M2), all whilst under enemy fire.

Leroy had a calling to document that was so strong, she showed up in a foreign country with nothing but a camera and two hundred dollars. Yet she went on to produce some of the most iconic images of the entire war. She was able to “give war a human face“, by making powerful images—searching for humanity amongst the chaos of war.

I believe there is a powerful lesson to be learned from Leroy’s story, life, and work. It’s not just her bravery that inspires me—it’s her willingness to follow her calling in spite of the circumstances and document the part of the war that connects us all—the human element.

The role of the documentary photographer isn’t about making beautiful images—it’s about connecting the viewer with the subject. It’s easy to take a photo of a beautiful sunrise/sunset. It’s much harder to photograph a homeless man while simultaneously portraying him in a dignifying way. This type of work takes a specific set of tools that you won’t find in a camera bag. It’s a way of seeing—a way of feeling. If you have this gift, it’s your responsibility to share it with the world. 

The world still needs curious minds who are willing to use their cameras to document and share what the rest of the world is not willing/able to see.

“Who Needs Photographers Anymore?” Part 4: The World Still Needs Photographers

“Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world.” — Eddie Adams, Time Magazine

Great Photos Come With A Great Responsibility

Sure you have a camera in your pocket—but are you using it to spark social change? Are you using it as a tool to advocate for those who don’t have a voice? Are you building a body of work that will someday shed light on an injustice?

We live in an era where access to News photos is almost instant. Everyone is a reporter posting their latest cell phone snaps. But the real influential photos of our time aren’t taken by citizens with cell phones—they’re taken by professional photographers who have worked for years to gain enough trust & access to be in a position to capture these images when the time arrises.

The world still needs photographers who are brave enough to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. The world needs people who are willing to use their gift of visual acuity to document history as it unfolds around us. It’s not so much about telling a story—it’s about making a connection between the viewer and the downtrodden, forgotten, abused, and neglected members of our society.

As documentary photographers, it is our responsibility to seek out these people and bring them to the forefront of global awareness. 

Give {Insert Suffering} A Human Face

Chances are slim that at 34, I’ll be parachuting into a war zone and documenting a fierce gun battle (not to mention my wife would kill me before the bullets and shrapnel had a chance to). The reason this blog doesn’t contain many of my own images—is because I’m still waiting/looking for that calling. Granted, I’ve been taking photos of my church for many years, I’ve documented events around my community, I’ve had the opportunity to use my camera for good—and I’m thankful for that. However, the world is a big place—there is more to be found than what lies on the surface.

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“The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn’t indicate or promise, and which the other kind couldn’t detect.” — Mark Twain

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I’ve only recently begun to search for opportunities to use my camera in this capacity. However, I feel very strongly that this is the next stage of my photographic journey—the calling of the documentary photographer. Everything up to this point has been training & practice. I’m still searching for my “one way ticket to Laos“, as it were. But when the time comes, I have faith that in spite of the circumstances—I’ll be able to produce images that shed light on a suffering and bring out the human element that connects us all.

To Be A Documentary Photographer Is More Than Carrying A Camera

“Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” — Walker Evans

Maybe there will come a day when we’ll all collectively hang up our DSLRs and resign to the ultimate “all in one” pocketable MacGyver smartphone with unlimited lenses, lights, filters, machetes, espresso machines, etc. 

“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.” — Henri Cartier Bresson

Henri Cartier Bresson probably would have used an iPhone for his documentary photography if he had one. His photos would have still been amazing, not because of his camera—but because of his vision as a photographer.

I’m not here to try and rebel against technology or say you can’t take a great photo with a camera phone. My point is that there’s more to being a documentary photographer than carrying a camera.

“It’s more important for a photographer to have very good shoes, than to have a very good camera.” — Sebastiao Salgado

The more I study documentary photography and try to improve my own work—the more I realize it’s about making a connection with people, networking, traveling, gaining trust & access, actually caring about what’s going on in the lives of others.

To be a good documentary photographer—you must first be a good person. 

No camera—cell phone or otherwise is going to do that for you.

So before you start worrying about the future of photography & how everyone has a camera—remember that pens are also readily available—but not everyone can write—or draw.

Be a Photographer—not a person with a camera. Find your calling. Put a human face on a suffering in the world. And maybe, God willing, you can put a tiny dent in the universe with your camera.

Thank You

-Tim

 

 

 

 

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