“A picture is worth a thousand words” should be the motto of the photojournalist. It certainly is what they are all about. Who can ever forget some of the most memorable photos of the 20th century? It was the photo journalist who brought us the horror of the holocaust, the joy of the sailor who returned home and the faces of the world. We have been a part of history through the eyes of a camera lens.
Photo-journalism is almost as old as the camera itself. The first photo journalist was Carol Szathmari, who did documentary photos of the Crimean War in the 1850′s. It was Matthew Brady who really should have the title of Greatest Photojournalist of the 19th century. His photos of the Civil War were made into engravings and published in Harpers Weekly. They are no less poignant today than they were when he took them over 150 years ago. He brought to life the main players in the Civil War. If it wasn’t for him, we would not have seen the care worn face of Abraham Lincoln or the meeting of the great generals.
It took until the 1880′s for photographs to be published in newspapers. The invention of flash powder allowed photography to go indoors. This added a whole new dimension to the ability of the photojournalist to tell his story with pictures.
It wasn’t until the flash bulb was invented along with the 35mm camera that photojournalism really took off. The period between the 1930′s and the 1950′s is called the Golden Age of photojournalism.
Henri Cartier Bresson is called by many, the Father of Modern Photojournalism. He isn’t the only one who has been given this title but he is certainly deserving. His photos have taken us from Africa in the 1920′s, to the Spanish Civil War, Gandhi just hours before his assassination and the liberation of Paris.
During the 1920′s, Germany was at the forefront of photojournalism through its magazines Munchner Illustrated Presse and Berliner Illustrirte Presse. They began printing candid photos of politicians and other people of interest to the public. Cameras had become small enough to be sneaked into places they would never have been able to go before.
In America, Look and Life magazines picked up the cue and dished up full page photos to bring the world to their readers. It took a while for America to catch up with the idea of the candid shot but eventually it became the norm.
The 1950s saw one of the most famous roving photojournalist of all, Jackie Bouvier. She could be found roving the streets of Washington D.C. looking for an interesting photo, story or handsome senator.
Today the word paparazzi has replaced the photojournalist in the common jargon. It has also come to be considered an invasive and frightening occupation. These celebrity seekers have placed a cloud over what has been a long history of exemplary work, often under dangerous and trying conditions. It is time that magazines and newspapers refuse to buy these photos and that readers refuse to purchase publications that print them. They cheapen the work of the great photojournalists who follow the real stories around the world.