Currently viewing the tag: "photojournalism"

Dec. 5, 2017

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Catherine Porter, the Canada bureau chief for the New York Times, shared her experiences covering the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti at a Ryerson Review of Journalism event. (Amanda Pope/RJRC)

Reporters who fly in to cover natural disasters must report on people suffering the consequences with respect and compassion, says journalist Catherine Porter, who arrived in Haiti soon after the 2010 earthquake to cover the story for the Toronto Star.

Porter was one of several speakers at a recent Ryerson Review of Journalism conference to emphasize that journalists must retain their sense of humanity toward victims of devastating wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides and other disasters. Covering Disasters: A Critical Lens, a day-long event held at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, explored how journalists can prepare to cover disasters and where they are missing the mark.

“We have to be respectful, we have to be decent,” said Porter, who is now the Toronto-based Canada bureau chief for the New York Times. “The mantra I repeat to myself often all the time in this job–whether it’s a natural disaster overseas or not–is, ‘This is just my job for today and this is this person’s life.’”

Porter, the keynote speaker at the Nov. 21 conference, recalled the experience of touring a public hospital in Haiti to illustrate how vulnerable people can be treated without dignity. The Spanish doctor who took her on the tour “walked me into a room where I found a completely naked woman on a bare metal table giving birth and she was crowning,” Porter said. “As someone who has given birth twice naturally and has been in that position of complete vulnerability, I was shocked.

“I looked back on that and thought … ‘Why did that Spanish doctor think it was okay to bring me into that room so casually when I was not writing about women giving birth there?’ That would never ever happen in Canada,” she said.

Porter said she left the room because her job as reporter involves treating vulnerable people with respect. Covering disasters, she noted, is hard on the human spirit: “I was haunted when I returned from Haiti.”

Ed Ou, a visual journalist with NBC News based in New York, also discussed the need to focus on the person beyond the tragedy.

“No matter what happens in any situation, whether it’s a conflict or a disaster, life does go on,” said Ou, who was part of a panel about photographing disasters. “One thing that has really struck me is how resilient the human spirit is. We oftentimes as journalists have a tendency to go in and we see people and we’re trying to extract a tragedy but really what you [need] to see is hope.”

Ou travelled to Kazakhstan in 2008 to photograph the lasting effects of radiation on the two million civilians who were exposed when the Soviet government test fired more than 400 nuclear weapons during the Cold War. He said he spent as much time as he could with survivors to get a sense of who they are as people.

Ou shared the story of Berik Syzdykov, who was born deformed and without eyes due to radiation exposure. He said he worked to see beyond Syzdykov’s disfigurement– to find out who he was as a person and what made him happy. Syzdykov, he discovered, learned to play piano and fell in love with opera when he travelled to Italy for an operation on his face.


SEMEY, KAZAKHSTAN – NOVEMBER 19 Berik Syzdykov, 29, sings and plays piano in an apartment in Semey, Kazakhstan Nov. 19, 2008. Berik was born deformed and blind as one of the million victims of radiation from Soviet nuclear testing. He learned to play piano and fell in love with opera when he travelled to Italy for an operation on his face. During the Cold War the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Polygon covering 18,500 square kilometers on the steppe of northeast Kazakhstan, was the site of a secret Soviet nuclear testing programme. Through four decades until the early nineties, the Soviet Union test detonated over four hundred nuclear weapons in the atmosphere and underground in preparation for a war with the West that never took place. The locals were used as guinea pigs to test the effects of radiation on human populations. Villagers living close by were given virtually no protection or warning of the dangers of radiation. Doctor Nailya Chaizhunusova from the Institute of Radiation Medicine in Kazakhstan recounts that “the army experimented on civilians – they would move people close to the test sites, leave a hundred people in the village, give a test group 200 grams of vodka to drink and monitor their health after they detonated a nuclear weapon.” During the course of the nuclear programme, the military prohibited doctors from attributing the sharp rise in illnesses and deaths from cancer, leukaemia, and radiation exposure in the region to the nuclear tests. (Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images)


 

“I try as much as I can to empower people so they aren’t seen as victims but as people with their own agency,” Ou said. “You are spending time with people to paint a portrait of what life looks like and to humanize people and their daily lives, but also to give a sense of what’s at stake.”

The nearly 100 conference attendees heard later in the day from journalists who emphasized the need to report on the aftermath of tragedy. David Thurton, a mobile journalist in Fort McMurray for CBC News, said stories continue to unfold after the immediate crisis is over.

“When it comes to the Fort McMurray wildfires, that’s when the people were the most vulnerable,” Thurton said. “Yes there is a complete disaster, there is an evacuation, they’re fighting for their lives. But then you have the aftermath where people are losing their homes [and] the government is not providing services.”

Government officials and authorities promise to take action to assist victims during tragedies, he noted, so it is crucial for journalists to hold them accountable once the disaster is past.

‘Be prepared to be uncomfortable’

The conference, organized by a team of students working for the Ryerson Review of Journalism, also included a panel discussion about the physical and mental toll covering disasters can take on reporters.

Angela Mullins, a managing editor for Metro News, was part of the news team covering the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires. She warned the reporters to beware of the physical discomfort they would experience from the smoke: “Be prepared to be uncomfortable. It is going to be a very uncomfortable experience while you’re there.”

CBC journalist Marion Warnica, who reported the stories of civilians affected by the Fort McMurray wildfires, said covering the disaster was stressful. But she said the best thing journalists can do is give themselves permission to stay safe and be human while doing the job.

“Be mindful. When you start your career, set up a regular mental health practice,” Warnica said. “What is it that you personally need to do to keep yourself happy and stress free? How do you release that stress? I honestly think that is what helped me.”

In the coming weeks, the RRJ plans to publish a multimedia package and online resources for journalists seeking expert advice and best practices for covering a disaster.

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Unknown photographer for Chesterfield & Maclaren, Untitled [Members of snow-shoeing club initiating a new member by means of the “Montreal Bounce,” Montreal, Quebec], ca. 1924, gelatin silver print. (The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

The 25,000 New York Times news photographs of Canada now archived in the Ryerson Image Centre represent a “treasure trove” for journalism historians and researchers, says the head of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

The collection of photos dating from about 1910 until 1990 includes images of major Canadian political events and conflicts, landscapes, sports heroes, candid reportage on the lives of diverse communities and portraits of notable Canadians.

“I can imagine researchers using the archive for projects on everything from who and what was considered newsworthy in Canada during those years to how outsiders – in this case the New York Times – viewed Canada,” said April Lindgren, the research centre’s academic director.

“There are many, many research opportunities for journalism scholars and historians and students. What do the photographs tell us about who wielded power at the time the photos were taken? How were women portrayed in those images? Did Indigenous people appear and if so, how were they presented?”

Denise Birkhofer, the RIC’s collections curator and research centre manager, said the archive is a valuable resource for the university as it increases the representation of Canadian photojournalism within the RIC’s holding.

“We [now] have a vast resource for students, scholars and researchers to look into various issues related to the 20th century in Canada,” Birkhofer said. She said the photographs themselves reveal information about how they were used by the New York Times.

“Photo editors throughout the 20th century were marking on photos with grease pencil to make crop lines and editing notes,” she said. “If you flip the photograph over you have stamps and inscriptions that tell you when photographs were taken or when they were published.”

“Journalists can research where the [photograph] was published or reproduced and find the original article in the New York Times and then you can see the context of how it was used,” Birkhofer said. “For journalism students who are interested in how images are incorporated into journalism and can lead stories, I think that there are endless opportunities for research with this collection.”

Unknown photographer for The Associated Press, [Princess Elizabeth at Niagara Falls speaking with Ernest Hawkins, mayor of the Ontario community], October 14, 1951, gelatin silver print. (The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

The Faraway Nearby exhibition now on at the RIC features a selection photos from the collection, which was donated to Ryerson earlier this year by GTA real estate executive Chris Bratty.

Birkhofer said the images are particularly valuable for what they reveal about how technology has revolutionized photojournalism: “When you are looking at almost a century of photojournalism, you can see the developments and the techniques that were used by photographers over time,” she said.

William E. Sauro for The New York Times, [Wayne Gretzky with Gordie Howe outside the Plaza Hotel, New York, USA], 1978, gelatin silver print. (The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

“In the first half of the 20th century, you see the typical black and white gelatin silver prints,” Birkhofer added, noting that all the photographs pre-date digital photography. “Then in the second half of the 20th century, you see a lot of electronically submitted, wire-transferred or laser photos. Those developments speak to changes in the journalism world more widely in terms of how technology has been utilized to quickly transmit news internationally.”

Peter Bregg, who worked as a wire service photographer and is now an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, has four photographs featured as part of the current exhibition. One of his photographs pulled from the archive and now on display shows then-Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark waving to crowds alongside Cameroon President Ahmadou Ahidjo as they are driven in an open car through the streets in Yaoundé on July 29, 1979. Bregg, who was working for Canadian Press at the time, said an estimated 50,000 people lined the 15-kilometre route from the airport.

Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark waves alongside Cameroon President Ahmadou Ahidjo as they drive in an open car through the streets here Saturday shortly after the Canadian leader arrived for a four-day visit. Crowds estimated at 50,000 lined the 15-kilometer route from the airport. (Peter Bregg (Canadian, dates unknown) for The Canadian Press. Cameroon, Africa, July 29, 1979, gelatin silver print. The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

Three more of Bregg’s Canadian Press photographs are featured in the book that accompanies the exhibit, including a 1978 image of youngsters Justin, Sasha and Michel Trudeau peeking from then-Prime Minister Trudeau’s office on Parliament Hill.

PEEK-A-BOO–Prime Minister Trudeau’s three boys–Michel, 3, (front), Sacha, 5 and Justin, 7–ham it up with a photographer Monday in Ottawa after they squirmed their way through 45 minutes of the daily question period. Natural showmen, they kept opening and closing the door and making funny faces. (Peter Bregg (Canadian, dates unknown) for The Canadian Press. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 6, 1979, gelatin silver print. The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

Bregg said technological advancements have improved the quality of photography over time.

“In the past, the film speed was very slow so they had to shoot at a very slow shutter speed and therefore people had to stand still,” Bregg said as he looked at a 1928 photo of divers at the Alberta’s Banff Springs Hotel. “When you look at the pictures from this exhibit, the photos are a lot more stiff and more posed … As time went on, the quality of the photography improved and today the quality of photography is so good.”

Canadian Pacific Railway, [Swimming pool at Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta], September 1928, gelatin silver print. (The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

Bregg, the recipient of the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation, said a comparison of the archived images with more contemporary news photos illustrates how how photojournalists today can now be more creative than their predecessors.

“Today, we’re able to take pictures in such difficult circumstances such as in low-light and of fast moving subjects that would be difficult to shoot before the digital era,” he said. “I remember taking hockey pictures 30 years ago and I would get some good ones that were in focus but I would miss a lot because they were out of focus. But today it is easier to take great photographs and be creative.”

The collection is accessible to the public, researchers, scholars and journalists who make an appointment through the Peter Higdon Research Centre. The Faraway Nearby exhibition runs until Dec. 10.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story quoted Denise Birkhofer saying, “In the first half of the 20th century, you see the typical black and white solar prints.” In fact Birkhofer said,  “In the first half of the 20th century, you see the typical black and white gelatin silver prints.” The RJRC apologizes for the error.

By STEPH WECHSLER
Special to the RJRC

(Left to right) Theirry Gervias, head of research at Ryerson Image Centre, and photojournalist and journalism instructor Peter Bregg Photo: Steph Wechsler

(Left to right) Thierry Gervias, head of research at Ryerson Image Centre, and photojournalist and journalism instructor Peter Bregg. Photo: Steph Wechsler

Digital photography and the capacity to edit pictures quickly and affordably have reopened debate over what editorializing means in images and the nature of photojournalistic neutrality, says award-winning photographer Peter Bregg.

New technologies have expanded the options for manipulating photographs, Bregg said during a panel discussion organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre: “If a photo is heavily enhanced in post production is it the truth as it happened, or is the photographer trying to influence the reader?”

Bregg, winner of the 2014 Canadian Journalism Foundation’s lifetime achievement award and an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, was joined on the panel by Thierry Gervais, the head of research at the Ryerson Image Centre and curator of Dispatch: War Photographs in Print, 1854-2008. The pair discussed the evolution of war photography, photojournalism trends, neutrality and how the meaning of images can change depending on the audience and where they are displayed.

“If you’re taking a picture where half the picture [is] in sunlight and the other half [is] in shadow, in the days of film, it wasn’t worth printing usually,” Bregg said. “But with RAW [the uncompressed image file from the sensor in a digital camera or scanner], you can go in there and lighten the shadows so it looks proper. You can darken the highlights in the sunshine so it looks okay.”

The ability to alter images has led to new rules governing what can and cannot be changed, he noted. In the World Press Photo contest, for example, “entrants are not permitted to make changes in colour that result in significant changes in hue to the extent that the processed colours diverge from the original colours,” he said. The rules, however, have not put an end to debates about photo manipulation.

Major controversy, for instance, surrounded Swedish photographer Paul Hansen’s 2013 World Press Photo prize for “Gaza Burial.” Hansen’s image, which depicts a procession of grieving uncles carrying their dead nephews through an alleyway after the children were killed in an Israeli airstrike, came under fire for what critics said appeared to be excessive tonal manipulation in post-production.

Forensic experts who studied the photo found that there were, “no additions– pixel for pixel– or subtractions,” Bregg said, noting that Hansen was allowed to keep his prize. “They did find there was a fair amount of post production, meaning the guy went into Photoshop. He changed the colours a bit to make it more dramatic. Made the shadows darker.”

The rules listed on the World Press Photo website say that adjusting colour is considered acceptable so long as it doesn’t excessively divert from the original image. Minor cropping or removing spots from negatives is also permitted, but staging scenes is completely prohibited. While some of these rules are fairly straightforward, others, as Bregg and Gervais suggested, are highly subjective. The World Press Photo’s 2015 entry rules page, for instance, says that “the content of an image must not be altered. Only retouching that conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed. The jury is the ultimate arbiter of these standards.”

Bregg argued that while “the standards really haven’t changed, the technology has changed dramatically.” He noted that there is a long history of manipulating news images: “People have been doing this for years in that you went into the darkroom, and if the background didn’t suit you, you could make it darker” by exposing an area of a print for longer.

Alternatively, the practice of dodging – what Bregg said photographers once called “the hand of God,” – is an old darkroom technique that involves waving an object, like a hand, between the enlarger lamp and the paper to limit the exposure, effectively lightening the image.

Gervais pointed to even earlier examples of photo manipulation. Engravings, he noted, were used to reproduce photographs in newspapers in the 19th century, and to make what were considered improvements at the time. Early photographs had a very narrow depth of field so the background was often blurry, but wood engravings could be etched with a higher degree of background detail compared to the original photographs.

Since the wood carvings conveyed details the photographic image could not, the engravings were considered a more complete depiction of the truth, Gervais said.

Editorial discretion, he added, is exercised in every aspect of journalism: “We are always talking about photography as a mechanical process and because of that, [we assume it is] more truthful, it’s more credible. And, okay, we can say that, but of course when you write, you emphasize something and not something else. I think that’s exactly what photographers are doing in this time.”

Gervais said meaning can also be changed depending on the camera used and where and how the photograph is displayed. As an example, he pointed to “Taliban” by French photographer Luc Delahaye. Delahaye’s 2001 image of a dead Taliban fighter was produced in two ways – with a common digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, and a panoramic camera. The former resulted in a regular-sized image that was published in the press, while the wider-format image from the latter was hung on the walls of a gallery.

The panoramic image, he noted, tells a story the press photos could not. In it, you can see footprints around the body and that the dead man’s shoes are missing. “He’s been robbed,” said Gervais. “That’s war. That’s what they do. They kill people, take their money, take their boots and leave.

“When you look at [the] photo that has been published taken with the SLR, all of that is gone,” he said. “I saw a kind of paradox. For me, you have a big image in which you can see a lot of detail because everything was super-sharp for the art gallery, and you have a cropped image losing a lot of information in the press. What can we say about that?

“I would have thought that the more information you put the better it is in the press,” he said.

Gervais and Bregg also discussed what makes an image “good.”

To Gervais, “an image is made of lines, it’s made of tones, it’s made of colours.” But most people can’t articulate why they like or dislike an image – it’s the intangible combination of visual elements, style and subject matter that make an image a success or a failure, he said.

Bregg said that instinct factors into the sense that a photograph works. He noted that submissions to the World Press Photo contest have soared in recent years so that these days a picture has to be “different” to get a judge’s attention. And while black and white was once the photographic standard, now it’s considered novel and arty: “What’s old is new and what’s new is old,” he observed.

The panelists agreed that while there have been momentous changes in equipment, access and taste, the core principle of photojournalism – the need to accurately convey what happened – hasn’t changed.

“The technology has changed but the ethics haven’t,” said Bregg. “We’re still supposed to work with the same ethics we did 100 years ago.”

Based on guidelines listed by Word Press Photo, the Canadian Association of Journalists and the National Press Photographer’s Association.

Based on guidelines listed by Word Press Photo, the Canadian Association of Journalists and the National Press Photographer’s Association.