From: Otto Pohl Re: The Death of Photojournalism?

Time magazine sent Chris Morris to Albania last summer to get pictures of the election there. Everything worked out fine, they had the page all set and laid out. At the last moment, the editors pulled the article, opting instead for an article about a restaurant opening in New Orleans.

To hear Christopher Morris and Tony Suau tell it, that's the story of the U.S. photojournalism market. Everywhere, budgets are being cut and publications are turning U.S.-centric and isolationist. At the same time, their profits and circulations have never been higher. As a manager of the only professional photo lab in Russia, I get to talk to a lot of the world-class photographers when they have a job in Moscow. They come by and we chat about how difficult it used to be to get film processed in Russia, how we all stood at Sheremetyevo airport begging departing passengers to take a bag of unprocessed film back to London or New York so we could meet some publishing deadline, how we processed film in hotel bathrooms before reserving time at Associated Press to wire images back on primitive fax machine-like devices. It's nice now; we can have a coffee and I can show them output from the latest digital devices and talk about our Q-Lab standard slide processing and have a laugh about old times. During the big events of the early 90s in Moscow there were always the same crew of photographers--Chris was pretty much the last person I spoke with before being shot during the 1993 coup, and Tony would regularly crop up at May Day events or for mafia stories.

These people were my photojournalism heroes. They had the big shots from the hot spots, and when one part of the world calmed down they flew to the next place that was heating up. They had great stories and great pictures, and for me represented the ideal job in the career I had embarked upon.

But the story Chris and Tony told me in separate visits over the last few days have really made me realize how the market for photojournalism has changed since I quit in August 1996. Although both have contracts with Time Magazine for something like 50 days of photography a year, they consider the U.S. market for photojournalism dead. Tony has not had a picture in domestic Time since 1996, and Chris, after relating the Albanian election story, ignores the U.S. market and has only marginally good things to say about European Time, a publication he only had a few pages in for all of 1997.

Life magazine has fired most of its staff and all of its photographers and is becoming a wimpy human interest vehicle. Big names like Joe McNally, who was among those fired from Life and in town this week on other assignment, are doing just fine even with a few contracts less. But these are the absolute cream of the business and even they are feeling the pinch. Budgets are being cut, photo editors are being fired, and publications are making do with wire or stock imagery. It's cheaper, news wire images are often more timely, and no one really notices the difference anyways. The main lesson a magazine like Time has learned in the past few years is that when Princess Diana dies and they put her on the cover, they sell more issues than they ever have before. And they figure that there are a hell of a lot more readers who might get hungry in New Orleans than wonder about the Albanian elections.

One of the negative aspects of the unprecedented boom in the U.S. economy seems to have been the growing confidence of the American public that they have all the answers. The Soviet Union collapsed because they had the wrong ideology, Eastern Europe got stuck on the wrong side of a losing battle, and Europe and Japan are looking lethargic and hidebound with their high taxes and large social programs. The reasoning appears to be, hey--if you live in the best country in the world, with the best economy and the most opportunities, what do you need to know about the rest of the world, other than maybe the snow conditions at a few ski resorts in Switzerland?

Europe is little better; the publishers there wonder about the economics of paying a potentially fallible photographer top dollar to scramble out to a story when they can sit back and have the pick of the crop when all the photographers start pouring their images onto the news wires and syndicating them out to the big agencies. The editor only has to pay for the actual images they want to use. Where a story could be sold in ten different countries five years ago it's lucky to have any resale at all. Other photographers have chosen various paths out of this dilemma. Some have gone corporate, shooting advertisements and annual reports. James Nachtwey and David Turnley sold the rights to their pictures to Bill Gates' Corbis photo bank for a stack of cash a year or two ago, and now spend their time fairly unconcerned about any change in day rates. Others have turned to making movies, or have moved out of the image market completely. But this isn't just a story about U.S. isolationism, or stupid publishers working with greedy accountants. What I think we're seeing here is a world dealing with images as a newly devalued currency. Until recently, the world was a huge unknown and our only glimpses came through the eyes of those intrepid enough to venture out and return with the goods. It was a symbiotic relationship--the magazines had the readership and the clout, but needed to pay for the appropriate material. Now the readership and the clout remain scarce while the images are so plentiful that I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of photographers would give their work for free in exchange for the exposure.

-- Otto Phol (, March 26, 1998


I am in the second year of a photojournalist degree in Swansea, south Walse. At the beginning of the acedemic year i attended a talk by the journalist John Pilger who discussed the very same topic ('is photojournalism dead?'), various amounts of points regaring compassion fatigue and US isolation from the rest of the worlds news photogarphically were raised. It seemed as though the panel were quite concerned with the compassion fatigue issue which although they regarded as non-existent still managed to talk at great lengths about.The idea that we have been so bombarded with images of death torture and general degredation so much that we now treat it as a trip to the local supermarket, necessary but a slight chore. They discussed the general public feeling that the big charities use photography as a guilt trip and that donation letters are now on par with junk mail. The concencus of the panel was that this is a fallacy and compassion fatigue is an invention of the large news corporations. My feeling is that the photography has not evolved, we recently had Stuart Freedman in as a guest lecturer and i saw his work as nothing new, he didn't seem to be challenging any form of photography, by this i mean the care in his image making seems to me nothing more than recycling past war photojournalist. He does have some very beautiful images but he himself admits that he is 'not' a photographer, merely someone who is concerned with showing the worlds problems and working for charities.

-- Chris Manley (, March 21, 2002.

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