Turkey’s “Lady in Red” and the Importance of Professional Photographers

June 10th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Our words often fail us in situations involving the best and worst of the world.  Sometimes, all we can say is “You have to see it to believe it.”  The photograph allows us to travel to these places, the places that words cannot take us.  What’s occasionally lost in all of this is just how important the person behind the camera is to capturing what’s in front of it.

Protests in Turkey have spread over the last week, as dissidents across the country continue to take to the streets to protest the dictatorial actions of the central government.  Recent curbs of alcohol sales, restrictions on unions, and other attempts to impose strict Islamic law initially triggered demonstrations. It’s the brutal police response to these protests, however, that now appears to be driving unrest.

Much has been written about what’s happening in Turkey, but it’s a picture that seems to say it all.

It’s a picture that’s commanded the world’s attention.

"Lady in Red"
(REUTERS/Osman Orsai)

“A single frame has distilled the experience of the protests and the crackdowns, of an angry people and callous government, into one crisp and indelible image,” said Pulitzer prize winning journalist C.J. Chivers, in an interview with the NPPA.

The “lady in red” as she is being called, was sprayed in the face with teargas at a park in Istanbul.  The image of what befell her is considered emblematic of the vicious crackdown on what began as peaceful protests.

As important as the photograph is to drawing attention to yet another popular uprising in the Middle East, it’s also significant in another way.   The “lady in red” is a stark reminder that the professional photographer is a fundamental element of an effective news media.

“Look at it [the photograph] closely. Look at the frames taken immediately before and after,” said Chivers speaking shortly after the layoffs at the Chicago Sun-Times. Chivers, who writes for the New York Times and compiles and shoots photographs for his blog, drew a link between the two events, “This photograph exposes the folly of thinking that citizen journalists can replace experienced photojournalists. What you see required a mix that few of us who wander around in public with point-and shoots or smartphones can match: high-functioning equipment, well-conditioned technical skills and the eye and touch of an accomplished artist, all applied together in quickly shifting and painful circumstances.” Chivers also noted that “Citizen journalists or writers with smartphone cameras can and do complement professional photographers.” “But this single frame shows the difference between the former and the latter, and is a tribute not just to the protesters, but to the real thing,” he concluded.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is equally important to remember that the eloquence of those words flows from the eye of the person who made the image.



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NPPA & Other Groups Respond to Yahoo! CEO’s Comments on Professional Photographers

May 28th, 2013 by and tagged , , , ,

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is attempting to deflect criticism arising from comments last week questioning the need for professional photographers. Mayer, who was speaking at a press event for the photo sharing website Flickr, seemed to suggest that technological advances had weakened the role of the professional photographic community:

“There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because [with the pervasiveness of cameras and the number of people uploading photos] there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore,” Mayer said.

The CEO’s comments quickly spread, and have been harshly denounced by many.  Today, in a letter  written on behalf of the National Press Photographer’s Association and seven other organizations (American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP),  Centre of the Picture Industry (CEPIC), Professional Photographers of America (PPA), Graphic Artists Guild (GAG), Picture Archive Council of America (PACA), American Photographic Artists (APA) and Picture Archive Council of America (PACA)), NPPA President Mike Borland expressed the group’s disapproval.  “We find these comments demeaning and devaluing to professional photography and photographers,” Borland wrote, “especially coming from a company like Yahoo! that derives millions of pageviews from photographs, has a number of photosharing applications in its portfolio, and is attempting to monetize those images for even greater profits.” The letter was also copied to the entire Yahoo! board of directors.

Mayer has tried to distance herself from her original comment, calling it a “misstatement” that was taken “out of context,” and apologizing via Twitter.  The Yahoo! CEO says her statements were related to Flickr’s increased storage capacity, and that there is no need for “Pro” accounts with expanded feautures because all users are now afforded a terabyte of memory.

Regardless, Borland noted that the NPPA “find[s] it extremely difficult to understand how anyone, especially someone in [Mayer’s] position could say such a thing in any context.”

Photo editor Jim Colton, a four decade veteran of organizations including the Associated Press, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated expressed similar sentiments, remarking in a blog post that Mayer’s comments were “an insult to all the professional photographers throughout history who have sacrificed everything to their craft…including their lives.”

Underlying much of the pushback against Mayer’s statements is the idea that amateur photographers simply do not posses the skill sets to do the jobs of their professional counterparts.  This conviction was aptly captured by well-known travel photographer Peter Adams, who noted “Photography is not about cameras, gadgets and gismos. Photography is about photographers. A camera didn’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel.”

NPPA President Borland also wrote that “being a professional means more than earning a living from a skill . . . it means educating, informing and inspiring the public everyday through our work. It also means abiding by standards, ethics and principles.”

The NPPA has requested that Mayer offer a public apology, and has offered to meet with the CEO and her staff to assist Yahoo! in developing a “better understanding of and appreciation for the photographic community.”

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