Does photojournalism have a future in the digital age?
Famous photojournalists discuss the future of the industry, and their prognosis may not be what you expect...
"We need to tell nice stories, and it begins with you," says Thomas Borberg, Photo Editor-in-Chief at Politiken, Denmark. He was one of many industry figures brought to Visa pour l'Image 2018 in Perpignan, France, as part of the Canon Student Programme to inspire and educate a future generation of photojournalists.
In a world where people turn to image-led digital channels more and more, photojournalists have an increasingly important role in keeping the public informed. But in this rapidly-changing media landscape, with limited funding and reduced practical training opportunities, the future of photojournalism is changing, too.
Playing its part in securing a future for the industry, Canon brought nearly 200 photography students from across Europe and Russia to the festival of photojournalism, to participate in workshops held throughout Professional Week. Leading photographers including Daniel Etter, Catalina Martin-Chico, Maciek Nabrdalik, Ivor Prickett and Giulio Di Sturco shared their experiences and insight. They spoke alongside former Photo Director at Agence France-Presse Francis Kohn, Politiken's Photo Editor-in-Chief Thomas Borberg, GEO France Director of Photography Magdalena Herrera, and WeTransfer's Photography Director Lucy Pike.
"Traditional ways of consuming content have been rocked by the digital world," said Lucy Pike, in her presentation about how to get the "big bucks" as a news photographer in today's world. "Now you're in this entirely different phase as photographers – you've got to think about how you want to consume content."
With traditional sources being replaced with the likes of WePresent – a sister company of the better-known file transfer service WeTransfer – commissioning photojournalists in a more traditional capacity for its platform, she highlighted the need for students to broaden their minds and their markets when pitching content.
"By giving students access to practical advice from working professional photographers, commissioning editors and agency representatives, we hope to give them the advantage in this competitive market," says Canon's Richard Shepherd, Pro Marketing Manager at Canon Europe Ltd. "The future of photojournalism, and storytelling, is as exciting as ever – we hope that exposure to these influential figures will help more young photographers launch their careers."
Today's young photojournalists have similar motivations to the generations before them. They want to document and critique the world through their lens. "I come from architecture – I started to photograph architecture and then started to move to photojournalism when I was doing my thesis in Lebanon," says Michele Spatari, a student in the Programme who studies at the ISFCI in Rome, Italy – and has already won recognition from Canon as a rising star.
"The main attraction to photojournalism was the ability to see and understand some critical issues about people and their spaces – that was really interesting to me."
In a crowded marketplace where there are many photographers capable of shooting high-quality images, photojournalists need to get creative in their offerings in order to stand out. "I do video as well," says Si Wachmann, a student from the Lette Verein school in Germany. "Everyone has to develop their own direction, but I think today it's becoming a one-man show. You do video, you do stills… There's less money, so people have to do everything. There's a benefit to having photographers be photographers, focusing on that and mastering it, rather than doing everything to survive. That's what I find a bit of a pity about the future of the industry."
The students are also quick to recognise other challenges facing the industry: "Diversity is the biggest issue," comments Michele. "But now there is debate. I don't know if it's changing at the level of assignments or a more diversified view of the world, but there is slow change." At Visa pour l'Image 2018, women in photojournalism featured heavily among the topics of debate, and Canon celebrated women in photography with an exhibition space dedicated to the work of its female Ambassadors.
The topic is firmly in the minds of the younger generation. "I feel good about being a woman in this industry," says Si. "Here, when they are talking about photojournalists, they mostly talk about men. There are amazing female photojournalists but they're not mentioned as much because there are fewer of us – I hope that will keep changing. I'm happy to be a part of that change as a woman."
With Thomas Borberg talking about the basics of developing and pitching stories to photo editors, and Daniel Etter talking about the uncertainty and emotional impact of witnessing devastation, the programme was broad and wide in its ambitions and coverage.
"It's an intense, honest review, which is what I was looking for," says Michele. "My biggest learning has been to dedicate more to a single long-term project that I can develop. I had the chance to talk at length with a long-term photographer who I admire: Daniel Etter. That's not an opportunity that comes around often."
It hasn't all been about inspiration – it's also been an exercise in fortification, motivating students to withstand the inevitable struggles they face along the path to success. "You are allowed to fail," reassured Thomas Borberg. "You're young and you have to try things out. Allow yourself to be incompetent and to ask questions, and do things that aren't right, and embrace them. It sounds easy but it's actually very difficult to do."
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