By Jennifer Sarti
Part of being a photography major at Webster University allows me to study the great photographers that came before us, including Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith and Gordon Parks. Each of them is known for images that showed us a new perspective or a different angle, and hopefully forced us to think about life a little differently.
This idea is the essence of what a documentary photographer or photojournalist tries to do with their work. For decades, photographs have been a part of newspapers and magazines, and in more recent years, they have been the driving force behind social media. For years, professional photojournalists have been the source of these photos, but as society and media corporations change the role of photojournalists is not what it used to be.
One of the biggest changes is the conglomeration of the media. In the early years, most newspapers worked independently and in competition of each other. Each paper would hire its own reporters and photographers to cover the issues. Larger papers with larger budgets would have correspondents that would travel worldwide in order for the paper to stay current with international news. But now, media is controlled by corporations that own TV stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines, as well as the online presence that comes with them. Since these media outlets are part of the same companies, it would not be financially smart to use competing photojournalists to document events. Another major issue is the decline in the number of newspapers. With the rise of social media, print publications have become fewer and those that still exist have become smaller. This factor also decreases the number of photojournalists who are employed at major media outlets.
With fewer jobs available in photojournalism, it can leave some students wondering if there is a viable career path after school. The answer to that is yes, there are still options. They don’t look the same as they did 10 years ago, but they are there. While the rise of social media has created many issues, it has also created a lot of opportunities. Media companies are no longer limited to how many photos they can print, they can create online galleries with dozens of images. The demand for photos is higher than ever, and photographers who are willing to navigate this new territory can still make a living.
One of the opportunities that are available include photographing local events. It is becoming common for photographers from all over the world to shoot events in their area and then post the images on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Media outlets can go online and select the images they want to use and obtain the rights to the image without ever having to send someone to the location. Some of the local happenings may include the seemingly mundane things like graduations, parties and street festivals. But these events can lead to other opportunities. Another option includes branching out into artistic and fashion photography. This kind of work doesn’t always make it into newspapers, but magazines and other media outlets have use for it. No matter what direction you go with your career, make sure that you are excited about what you are doing. When you are shooting something that you care about as opposed to just finishing a job, it shows.
In my short time here at Webster, I have run through a whole spectrum of thoughts on photography, but more specifically photojournalism. I started with an excitement about taking photos of everything, to the focus of wanting to document the world around me, the disappointment in realizing that I would never have a career like Associated Press photojournalist Lynsey Addario, and the fear of wondering if this was a valid career choice. This past semester has been spent really digging into what it would mean to be a real-world photojournalist. Now that I can see and understand its challenges, I am back to feeling excited with a renewed purpose.