Stephen Mayes on Photojournalism


General Photography

I caught a lot of flak late last year for my post containing some thoughts on the visual language of photojournalism. Discussing some (then) new work by James Nachtwey I noted that “the photography employs the same visual language that we are incredibly familiar with and that, I wager, for that very reason doesn’t achieve its actual purpose any longer.”

Today, Colin Pantall pointed us to a post with a large excerpt of a speech Stephen Mayes gave at the most recent World Press Photo event in Amsterdam, which, essentially, contained the same criticism I had leveled at photojournalism, but using stronger wording: “The overwhelming impression from the vast volume of images is that photojournalism (as a format for interpreting the world) is trying to be relevant by copying itself rather than by observing the world.”

Stephen also directly addresses something else that I had not explicitly touched: “Every year, the jury is astonished by the repetition of subjects and the lack of variety in the coverage. From the infinity of human experience the list of subjects covered by the entrants would fill a single page […] This is the general view, the blurred impression of 470,214 images and of course there are many exceptions. But meanwhile hospitals and the sick (and especially mental hospitals), the afflicted, the poor, the injured are photographed way in excess of their actual numbers.”

Read the whole excerpt (you might find other things to stress than I do) - hopefully, Stephen’s speech will generate some overdue discussions on photojournalism.