18 September 2005

Restricted space

A photograph is also news. When it appears in newspapers and magazines, a photograph can have tremendous impact in shaping our views. Perhaps more impact than even words on headlines. And, by doing so, a photograph can influence our decisions, leaving lasting impressions of world or local events.

Yet, in many cases, a photographer doesn’t have the freedom to place his or her photograph on the covers – or in the inside pages – of newspapers and magazines. Is it an editorial decision that blocks the way? Sometimes yes; but not always so. There are other forces that determine which photographs end up on the covers of our newspapers and magazines. Here are excerpts from war photography from a story, Calling The Shots, Paul Woolf filed in

“After Vietnam, the American government accused the media of causing it to lose not only the war itself but, perhaps more importantly, public support for the war. As far as the American government was concerned, photographs of Vietnamese children in agony, their skin flayed off by American napalm, were rather unhelpful.”

“The British were aware of this. When the Falklands War came along in 1982, Mrs Thatcher was keen not to make the same mistake that the Americans had made. So, she introduced the ‘pool system’. This saw the military choose – officially, at random – just a few journalists and photographers to be granted access to operations. These few then supplied all media organisations with their words and pictures.”

“In Gulf War Two, a new element was added to the ‘pool system’: the concept of ‘embedding’ selected journalists with the armed forces. While on the surface ‘embedding’ appears to give greater and closer access to what’s ‘really’ going on, in reality it gives the military an even greater control over what journalists and photojournalists can see and say. Any deviation from the official line, and the photographer or journalist is sent back to HQ.”

The concept: the government controls what’s ‘allowed out’. The result: fewer photographic viewpoints on an event.

Woolf says,
“most photojournalists have not welcomed the ‘pool system’, nor the ‘embedding’. They feel that these systems curb their freedom to take photographs that, they believe, uncover the truth of a news story or an event.”

In fact, Woolf talks about Peter Turnley, an American photojournalist, who has broken away from this ‘restricted space’ to create his own. With help from
www.digitaljournalist.org, Turnley has been able to showcase some of his outstanding photographs from the recent Iraq War. You can see these photographs here. To see more of Peter Turnley’s work visit his website.

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