Photojournalism : A Brief Foray into the World of Press Photography

PT. I - The Events as they Occurred.

 

In the past week I’ve encountered two different scenes that I deemed worthy of press and as such, I shot both scenes in gross detail. Scene one consisted of a large fire which had had spread through a pine woodland and gorse bushes near Irvine, North Ayrshire, due to a period of rather intense heat & distinct lack of rain. I was on my way home from a productive business meeting, cruising alongside the expansive & bustling beach park. I’d travelled approximately half a mile from Irvine harbour when I found myself driving through a dense cloud of acrid yellow smoke and heavy, grey ashes. 

As I turned the next corner I came upon four fire engines & stopped the car. I got out & headed into the brush, following the trail that the firefighters had left behind them as they rushed to tackle the blaze. I got as close as I could to the woodland, to the point I could see and hear everything that the firefighters were doing and saying, without impeding them or diverting their attention from the task at hand. I shot a series of images & a short video before heading back to the road and phoning my contacts for the local press. 

Fast forward fifteen minutes and I was back at Irvine harbour, seated in a local coffee shop & editing the photographs before utilising the free wi-fi to upload my work. Tipping generously for the lemonade I’d just drank I left and went home. Between leaving the coffee shop and getting home, the story had gone from local to regional press!

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Scene two consisted of a relatively serious RTA (Road Traffic Accident) that took place at Prestwick Train Station. After a lazy Sunday morning I was on my way to my Grandmothers house (directly across the street from the train station) when I found the road down to my usual parking space cordoned off & blocked from view by an ambulance and road traffic Police vehicles. I quickly parked my car elsewhere and rushed to the scene, praying that my nephew hadn’t run onto the road or any other terrifying scenario which races through ones mind in a situation such as this one. 

As it happened, a (rental) box-van had attempted to pass under the railway bridge at speed & being too high (the maximum height for vehicles is well signposted), collided with the bridge & very almost split in two upon the sudden impact. Once I had established that the passengers were OK I retrieved my camera from the car & proceeded to make photographs of the scene while onlookers gathered around the Police cordon, phones at the ready. I then rushed into my Grandmothers house, made a phone call & sent the images to the press for their approval.

 

RTA, Prestwick Train Station

 

PT. II - A Question of Motive.

 

“The picture that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.”

Scott Lorenzo

 

Primarily a Photographer that specialises in Portraiture, Product Photography & Landscape Photography, I am usually able to establish an idea for a shot, plan my compositions to the n’th degree & execute my designs in a relatively controlled manner. However, photojournalism is almost entirely spontaneous - requiring immediate response & a keen sense of ’sight’ in order to capture a situation effectively.

It was on both of the above-mentioned occasions that I felt compelled to document the events that were unfolding before me. I also made the conscious decision to exhibit their happenings on the broader spectrum, choosing to connect with those whom were able to amplify my experiences in a daze of pure adrenaline & some underlying & multifaceted psychological driving force. I wonder, then, what it is that compels the mind to act in such a way. Yes, it is true, that on both occasions I made sure that the situations were under control before I reached for my camera, however, I still query my own motives for doing so. 

 

“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

- Ralph Hattersley

 

I have found that through the lens of critical self-reflection, there exists an egomaniacal satisfaction in being the first to document a scene; even more so wherein one becomes the one & only source of its visual documentation in the public eye. Becoming the conduit by which others may experience the existence of an incident outside their own private lives promotes a sense of self-importance, or of power, in the individual. 

In the thinking mind, cognitive dissonance manifests itself between the act of documenting a scene and its subsequent amplification; whether it is undertaken purely as an act of collective altruism or as a personal conquest. What then, is the driving force behind making a photograph of someone else’s misfortune, or, of natural devastation? Is it an instinctive urge to make ones tribe aware of danger? Is it revelry in the face of misfortune given ones current position of safety? 

 

“Essentially, the camera makes everyone a tourist in other peoples reality,

...and eventually in ones own”

- Susan Sontag

 

It is on this particular wavelength, that whenever I see a phone raised to capture a snapshot of a scene that is unfolding before an individual, I can disdainfully (& with ease) envisage some dystopian future wherein the individual seeks not to aid those in peril or to enjoy a pleasurable experience. Instead, they compulsively reach for their smartphone in order to duplicate a moment in time in some vain attempt at proving that they, in fact, existed.

I'll conclude this piece with another compelling excerpt from Susan Sontag's thought provoking compendium of essays 'On Photography'. Thanks for reading!
 

 

" The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied: first, because the possibilities of photography are infinite; and second, because the project is finally self-devouring. The attempts by photographers to bolster up a depleted sense of reality contribute to the depletion. Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriating reality and a means of making it obsolete."