I opened the New York Times this morning, as I do most days, to catch up on the news. As I paged through the sections, a headline caught my eye: Chicago Sun-Times Lays Off All Its Full-Time Photographers.
I had to read it twice. Could this really be true? As I delved into the article, I realized, sadly, that it most certainly was. Even a Pulitzer prize-winning photographer wasn’t immune from these inane budget cuts.
Upon further research, I discovered that newspaper leaders plan to use more freelancers and train their reporters to use iPhones in the field to replace the professional photographers’ images. Yes, they are serious.
After digesting this information today as I was on deadline writing and editing articles and photographs for the magazine I produce, I realized the Sun-Times announcement is yet another nail in the coffin for professional photographers and an exclamation point on the “good enough” factor. I don’t want to settle for good enough, and I know I’m not alone.
In fact, for this particular issue of the magazine, I’ve worked closely with two veteran professional photographers whose stellar images have made very good, well-written articles into vibrant features that are beautiful on the page. I see their eye-catching images stopping the readers and drawing them into the articles. “Good enough” photos won’t do that. The Sun-Times decision is not only a lose-lose for the photographer and the media, but also, more importantly, a loss for our society, culture and history.
Words on a page can only take us so far. Images convey unique moments in time. We rely on the talents of professional photographers to show us the world, to allow the observer to draw his own conclusion with images taken at the perfect time, in the ideal light and with instinctive creativity only developed after many years of experience.
I admit I’m a hypocrite. I’m one of those reporters who writes and takes photographs. Some may say I was ahead of the times, but I think not. I’m simply a photographer who added writing to my skill set to further express myself. There’s a huge difference between choosing to become a professional photographer and having an iPhone shoved into your hands.
I’ve seen the world through the viewfinder of a camera since childhood, and I spent a decade in the darkroom, years in front of the computer and out in the field taking workshops to further develop my skills in an ever-changing technological world. Being a professional photographer today is a never-ending educational process; once you learn to type, you’re a writer (Editor’s note: OK, that’s a bit simplistic, but you get the idea).
To think that important, newsworthy events in a major city the size of Chicago will now be covered with images taken as a sidebar–using snapshots captured with a writer’s iPhone–is a travesty to photojournalism.
When you think back to iconic moments in history, such as man walking on the moon, the assassination of President Kennedy, Woodstock, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, what do you remember? It’s not the articles written or the quotes from TV interviews—it’s the photographs. It’s those amazing images taken by professional photographers that became synonymous with the event, the pictures that remain vibrant in our minds when the words and details we’ve read have long since faded on the pages and from our memories.
I wish those former Chicago Sun-Times photographers the best of luck in their future endeavors, and I hope that they land in a place where their talents are recognized and cherished.