THE HISTORY OF PHOTOJOURNALISM
The practice of illustrating news stories with photographs was made possible by printing and photography innovations that occurred between 1880 and 1897. While newsworthy events were photographed as early as the 1850s, printing presses could only publish from engravings until the 1880s. Early news photographs required that photos be re-interpreted by an engraver before they could be published. Train wrecks and city fires were a popular subject in these early days.
In 1847, an unknown photographer took daguerreotypes of the U.S. troops in Satilo, Mexico, during the Mexican-American War. The first known photojournalist was Carol Szathmari (Romanian painter, lithographer, and photographer) who did pictures in the Crimean War (between Russia and Ottoman Empire, 1853 to 1856). His albums were sent to European royals houses. Just a few of his photographs survived. William Simpson of the Illustrated London News and Roger Fenton were published as engravings. Similarly, the American Civil War photographs of Mathew Brady were engraved before publication in Harper’s Weekly. Because the public craved more realistic representations of news stories, it was common for newsworthy photographs to be exhibited in galleries or to be copied photographically in limited numbers.
On March 4, 1880, The Daily Graphic (New York) published the first halftone (rather than engraved) reproduction of a news photograph. In 1887, flash powder was invented, enabling journalists such as Jacob Riis to photograph informal subjects indoors, which led to the landmark work How the Other Half Lives. By 1897, it became possible to reproduce halftone photographs on printing presses running at full speed.
In France, agencies such as Rol, Branger and Chusseau-Flaviens (ca. 1880-1910) syndicated photographs from around the world to meet the need for timely new illustration. Despite these innovations, limitations remained, and many of the sensational newspaper and magazine stories in the period from 1897 to 1927, (see Yellow Journalism) were illustrated with engravings. In 1921, the wirephoto made it possible to transmit pictures almost as quickly as news itself could travel. However, it was not until development of the commercial 35mm Leica camera in 1925, and the first flash bulbs between 1927 and 1930, that all the elements were in place for a “golden age” of photojournalism.
Farm Security Administration
From 1935 to 1942, the Farm Security Administration and its predecessor the Resettlement Administration were part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and were designed to address agricultural problems and rural poverty associated with the Great Depression. A special photographic section, headed by Roy Stryker, was intended merely to provide public relations for its programs, but instead produced what some consider one of the greatest collections of documentary photographs ever created in the U.S. Whether this effort can be called “photojournalism” is debatable, since the FSA photographers had more time and resources to create their work than most photojournalists usually have.
The “Golden Age of Photojournalism” is often considered to be roughly the 1930s through the 1950s. It was led by a new style of magazines and newspapers that used photography, more than text, to tell their stories. Early leaders included the magazines (Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung (till April 1945) (Berlin), Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (Berlin), Vu (France), Life (USA), Look (USA), Picture Post (London)), and newspapers (The Daily Mirror (London), The New York Daily News (New York)) that built their huge readerships and reputations largely on their use of photography, and photographers such as Robert Capa, Romano Cagnoni, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White and W. Eugene Smith became well-known names.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is held by some to be the father of modern photojournalism, although this appellation has been applied to various other photographers, such as Erich Salomon, whose candid pictures of political figures were novel in the 1930s.
Soldier Tony Vaccaro is also recognized as one of the pre-eminent photographers of World War II. His images taken with the modest Argus C3 captured horrific moments in war, similar to Capa’s soldier being shot. Capa himself was on Omaha Beach on D-Day and captured pivotal images of the conflict on that occasion. Vaccaro is also known for having developed his own images in soldier’s helmets, and using chemicals found in the ruins of a camera store in 1944.
Until the 1980s, most large newspapers were printed with turn-of-the-century “letterpress” technology using easily smudged oil-based ink, off-white, low-quality “newsprint” paper, and coarse engraving screens. While letterpresses produced legible text, the photoengraving dots that formed pictures often bled or smeared and became fuzzy and indistinct. In this way, even when newspapers used photographs well — a good crop, a respectable size — murky reproduction often left readers re-reading the caption to see what the photo was all about. The Wall Street Journal adopted stippled hedcuts in 1979 to publish portraits and avoid the limitations of letterpress printing. Not until the 1980s had a majority of newspapers switched to “offset” presses that reproduce photos with fidelity on better, whiter paper.
By contrast Life, one of America’s most popular weekly magazines from 1936 through the early 1970s, was filled with photographs reproduced beautifully on oversize 11×14-inch pages, using fine engraving screens, high-quality inks, and glossy paper. Life often published a United Press International (UPI) or Associated Press (AP) photo that had been first reproduced in newspapers, but the quality magazine version appeared to be a different photo altogether.
In large part because their pictures were clear enough to be appreciated, and because their name always appeared with their work, magazine photographers achieved near-celebrity status. Life became a standard by which the public judged photography, and many of today’s photo books celebrate “photojournalism” as if it had been the exclusive province of near-celebrity magazine photographers.
The Best of Life (1973), for example, opens with a two-page (1960) group shot of 39 justly famous Life photographers. But 300 pages later, photo credits reveal that scores of the photos among Life’s “best” were taken by anonymous UPI and AP photographers.
Thus even during the golden age, because of printing limitations and the UPI and AP syndication systems, many newspaper photographers labored in relative obscurity.
“Life” and the other photographic magazines celebrated the human spirit during the Second World War and when the war ended there was an optimistic period in the USA and Europe of unbridled consumerism and a general belief that things could only get better. The magazines celebrated humanism and the sense that anything was possible. Even if they showed poverty and hunger it was with an underlying message that by exposing it to public scrutiny things would improve.
Decline of the photo magazines
The Golden Age of Photojournalism ended in the 1970s when Life and other photomagazines ceased publication. They found that they could not compete with other media for advertising dollars to sustain their large circulations and high costs. Still, those magazines taught journalism much about the photographic essay and the power of the still images.
The rise of the photo agencies
In 1947 a few famous photographers founded the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos. In 1989 Corbis Corporation and in 1993 Getty Images were founded. These powerful image libraries sell the rights to photographs and other still images.
Acceptance by the art world
Since the late 1970s, photojournalism and documentary photography have increasingly been accorded a place in art galleries alongside fine art photography. Luc Delahaye, Manuel Rivera-Ortiz and the members of VII Photo Agency are among many who regularly exhibit in galleries and museums.
The Danish Union of Press Photographers (Pressefotografforbundet) was the first national organization for newspaper photographers in the world. It was founded in 1912 in Copenhagen, Denmark by six press photographers. Today it has over 800 members.
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) was founded in 1946 in the U.S., and has about 10,000 members. Others around the world include the British Press Photographers Association (BPPA) founded in 1984, then relaunched in 2003, and now has around 450 members. Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (1989), Northern Ireland Press Photographers Association (2000), Pressfotografernas Klubb (Sweden, 1930), and PK — Pressefotografenes Klubb (Norway).
News organizations and journalism schools run many different awards for photojournalists. Since 1968, Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded for the following categories of photojournalism: ‘Feature Photography’, ‘Spot News Photography’. Other awards are World Press Photo, Best of Photojournalism, and Pictures of the Year as well as the UK based The Press Photographer’s Year.