When I heard the Chicago Sun-Times had laid off their entire staff of photojournalists, I felt like I had been sacked in the gut. I felt insulted. I felt worried. It began with thoughts about my own livelihood and my ability to support my family in a field where I was just starting to try and establish myself.
It grew into a greater fear that the entire profession was being dealt a blow. We had all been sacked. We had all been given a message about our value.
It didn’t hurt my pride. It went deeper than that. From as far back as I can remember, photography was an art that suited me. It is this troublesome compulsion to freeze forever all the moments I fancy.
My memories of the moments I miss stay with me for so long, like the occasion my husband and I visited Mission Dolores.
We were touring the Basilica before Mass and people were entering for the service. I was so excited to be shooting all the gorgeous light and architecture inside the historic church and I was inside my own creative imagination, as we artists get.
I turned to see a woman holding a rosary in both her hands. Her eyes were clenched closed. She rapidly whispered a prayer while pulling the chain through her hands.
Just like that.
The shutter button in my mind froze an image of a woman communing with such a ferocity that it gave purpose to the beautiful building I had been photographing for an hour. She made everything perfect.
Out of respect for her privacy and adherence to a code of ethics that I am very proud of, I did not take the picture. It took hours before I stopped being mad at myself for being so virtuous.
You see, photojournalism is so much more than taking pictures. There are traditions, rules, ethics, and laws that create a framework from which we judge ourselves as professionals.
Dedication guides us into places many people would fear to go…,to seek out something special or something truthful or something beautiful. The industry is competitive, often unfair, sometimes cruel. We are driven by something within ourselves to play with time, light, and exposure to capture the Decisive Moment!
There is nothing more satisfying than the feeling you get when something special materializes.
I feel so proud to belong to the photographic community. Those of us hurt by the news of what happened at the Chicago Sun-Times aren’t just hurting for those individuals who lost their jobs and we aren’t just hurting for ourselves. This hurts everyone who loves and understands the power of pictures.
I feel that every time we devalue an aspect of the arts, we threaten all the arts. Who goes next?
If you don’t understand or share my belief, I urge your to discover Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, William Eggleston, Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Annie Leibovitz, Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, Robert Capa and any of the other brilliant photojournalists who have made their impact on a long journalistic tradition.
Let’s not neglect one of the cornerstones of our society too long. We might find that all we have left are rags filled with bong-throwing celebrities and trash-talking “real” women and they might not be so entertaining then.