"Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling. If you can't feel what you're looking at, then you're never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures."
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Don McCullin
"I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does a job."
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Don McCullin
"To create pictures powerful enough to overcome the diluting effects of the mass media, to shake people out of their indifference."
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James Nachtwey
"To create pictures powerful enough to overcome the diluting effects of the mass media, to shake people out of their indifference."
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James Nachtwey
"We are only trying to tell a story. Let the 17th-century painters worry about the effects. We've got to tell it now, let the news in, show the hungry face, the broken land, anything so that those who are comfortable may be moved a little."
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David Seymour
"Go forward with the label of photojournalist and keep the rest in your heart."
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Robert Capa Signature
"If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough."
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Robert Capa Signature
"To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms, which give that event its proper expression."
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Henri Cartier-Bresson Signature
"I am a visual man. I watch, watch, watch. I understand things through my eyes."
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Henri Cartier-Bresson Signature
"You cannot rely on your memories - but you can rely on your pictures."
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Josef Koudelka Signature
"For me, it was just important to photograph what I was part of."
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Josef Koudelka Signature

Summary of Photojournalism

Though one might be forgiven for sometimes confusing it with Documentary and Street Photography, Photojournalism possesses a vitality and a force all of its own. At its most rudimentary, Photojournalism is the practice of conveying the urgency of current news stories through pictures. It is true that a photojournalistic image can sometimes be left to speak for itself, but more usually it develops a narrative in conjunction with a written text; a comingling, in other words, of photography and journalism. Photojournalism is the lifeblood of the daily press, but it is associated predominantly with the rise of dedicated photo magazines and their preference for the so-called "photo-essay".

Photojournalism deals with important, or newsworthy, subject matter, and its two overarching themes are world events and social injustice. Given, moreover, that photojournalists are usually committed to exposing wrongs, photojournalism is predicated on an unwritten code of practice that states that - if it is to adhere to the very highest standards of journalistic objectivity - the image must not be staged or manipulated. These rules are easier to apply to live action photography, however, and in actual practice the codes of practice can be bent where the urgency of the situation has demanded it. And while photojournalistic images tend to be very much "of the moment," Photojournalism has become instrumental in how we have come to view the last 170 years of world history.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • At basis, Photojournalism performs an important civic duty. Based on the premise that one always trusts the evidence of one's own eyes, it is Photojournalism's job to inform the public by showing the world "how it is in reality." The image, therefore, confirms the content of any accompanying written text (or vice-versa indeed).
  • It is true that some exceptional photojournalists have achieved the status of "artists" - Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein for instance - but typically Photojournalism does not sit comfortably within the sphere of modern art photography. Photojournalists are more likely to earn the respect of their peers and the public as intrepid buccaneers willing to put their own safety at risk in order to capture the truest images.
  • Since they can both aim at exposing social and/or humanitarian injustices, Photojournalism can certainly qualify as Documentary Photography. But unlike documentary, photojournalism tends to be investigative and unrehearsed. Photojournalism relies very much on an opportunistic snapshot principle for its effect whereas Documentary Photography is more typically the result of planning and considered composition.
  • The photojournalist seeks to capture a moment - or a split second (the "decisive moment" as Henri Cartier-Bresson called it) - that would have, without their daring and endeavour, gone unnoticed. There is then sometimes a guerrilla element to photojournalism, especially so where the photojournalist is operating incognito or within a war zone.

Overview of Photojournalism

Detail of <i>D-Day from the Boat</i> by photojournalist Herman V. Wall.

The role of the photojournalist can be incredibly dangerous. More than 1,000 photojournalists have died internationally since 1992 as they risk attack, retribution and kidnap to present the world with powerful images from the front line of conflict and danger.

Key Artists

  • The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson defined the field of photojournalism and created some of the most memorable photos of the greatest world events of his era. He also brilliantly captured "the decisive moment", the split second when an intersting and powerful composition is best photographed.
  • Weegee was a legendary news photographer, whose stock and trade were candid shots of people in the streets, in bars, and at crime scenes in New York City.
  • Bourke-White was an intrepid adventurer at the very center of challenging historical events. Her photographs gained international recognition.
  • Koudelka is a Czech-born French itinerant photographer known for his depictions of gypsies and the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
  • Dorothea Lange's images of Depression America made her one of the most acclaimed documentary photographers of the twentieth century. She went on to become a leading photo-journalist working for magazines such as Fortune and Life.
View all

Do Not Miss

  • Straight Photography is a movement centered on depicting a scene in sharp focus and detail as a way to emphasize the photographic medium and distinguish it from painting. Straight Photographers manipulated darkroom techniques to enhance the photograph with higher contrast and rich tonality.
  • Social Realism refers to a style of figurative art with social concerns - generally left-wing. Inspired in part by nineteenth-century Realism, it emerged in various forms in the twentieth century. Political radicalism prompted its emergence in 1930s America, while distaste for abstract art encouraged many in Europe to maintain the style into the 1950s.

Important Photos and Artists of Photojournalism

Valley of the Shadow of Death (1885)

Artist: Robert Fenton

Fenton's image, which depicts a ravine in a desolate landscape beneath a bleak empty sky, is populated only with cannonballs. Strewn along the road on the right, and filling the ditch between the road and two paths on the left, the cannonballs are meant to represent British casualties of the Crimean war. The perspective of the photograph, looking up toward the sloping hills and around the incline of the road, captures something of the sense of hopelessness at being trapped in a valley under enemy fire from above. As Fenton described it: "the sight passed all imagination: round shot and shell lay like a stream at the bottom of the hollow all the way down, you could not walk without treading upon them."

This barren war landscape would have resonated with the British national consciousness. Most had heard the story of "The Charge of the Light Brigade," an elite cavalry unit that sustained heavy casualties when ordered to charge through the Valley of the Shadow of Death toward fortified Russian artillery on October 25, 1854. The event was commemorated in a poem of the same title by Alfred Lord Tennyson, the poet laureate. The location in this photograph is of a similar but different ravine, and the image came to represent the heroism and tragedy of war.

It transpired, however, that Fenton photographed the ravine on two separate occasions. Subsequently, controversy developed as to whether some of the cannonballs were placed to make a better second image. Thus, while the image remains of great historical significance, it is also attended by the issue of authenticity which underscores all judgements on the value of Photojournalism.

A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1863 (1863)

Artist: Timothy H. O'Sullivan

This image, possibly the best known of Brady's Civil War photographs, depicts dead soldiers scattered on the battlefield after the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place between July 1-3, 1863. The photograph was included in Alexander Gardner's, Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866), with text that read: "it was, indeed, a 'harvest of death' that was presented; hundreds and thousands of torn Union and rebel soldiers - although many of the former were already interred - strewed the now quiet fighting ground." The image was preceded by Gardner's hope that "Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity."

During the Civil War, though photographs were taken of the dead, sometimes even in the stages of decomposition, newspapers and journals refused to publish them. It was only in books like Gardner's that the images were available to the public. Viewers, used to heroic depictions of war presented in paintings, were shocked by images like this one. The collected works showed the power of photography to depict history in the making. As The New York Times said of the book, "The faithful camera [...] has written the true history of the war."

The Crawlers (1877)

Artist: John Thomson

This picture depicts a destitute middle-aged woman holding a sleeping child on her lap, as she rests on a doorstep. The Crawlers was intended to communicate the dire situation of London's poor and to advocate a call for social change. The image was one of 36 published in Street Life in London (1877) with the writer Adolphe Smith Headingly's text relating the story of how the woman, through circumstances beyond her control, "descended penniless into the street." Using photographs to uphold the arguments presented by the text, the book helped pioneer the concept of the photo-essay.

Thomson and Smith were both social reformers and hoped that their work would convince their readers that homelessness was "often, the result of unfortunate circumstances and accident." The image conveys the woman's exhaustion and also her solicitude for the child. In their introduction to the book, the co-authors championed "the precision of photography" and its ability to "present true types of the London poor and [to] shield us [the authors] from accusations of either underrating or exaggerating individual peculiarities of appearance."

Useful Resources on Photojournalism

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd

"Photojournalism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd
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First published on 25 Mar 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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