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Brief guide to photographing social protest and civic activism.
Fig. 1: “Truth, Reason, Ignorance, Washington D.C.” Students taking part in the Ron Paul Revolution March, Summer 2008, protest in the Capitol lawn.
Photographing Social Protest & Civic Activism
Documenting Participatory Democratic Culture
Photography and Text by Nathaniel I. Córdova
All Photographs Copyright © 2008 Nathaniel I. Córdova Essay by Nathaniel I. Córdova Copyright © 2008 by the author
All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the author, except by reviewers who may quote brief passages in published review.
First Edition Photographing Social Protest & Civic Activism:
Documenting Participatory Civic Culture © 2008 Nathaniel I. Córdova
Cover photograph: “Freedom March 2008, Washington D.C.” Title page photograph: “Truth, Reason, Ignorance, Washington D.C.”
For Michelle, Phoenix, Terra, Alex, and my Parents without whom dreams are not
Acknowledgements I WOULD LIKE TO express my sincerest gratitude to all that have encouraged, challenged, and inspired me to continue developing photography as socially conscious practice during these last few years. In particular, I’m very grateful for my students at Willamette University who have listened patiently to my thoughts about public discourse and participatory democratic culture, and who have contributed to much of my learning with their own social documentary and digital storytelling projects. I am also very grateful for all those folks whom, by commenting on my photography, have inspired me to continue exploring and learning.
Preface: Assumptions & Caveats Nathaniel I. Córdova
will assume that as photographer you have already completed all preparatory activities for the event you plan to photograph, and that you have a good understanding of at least the basics of Reportage, Documentary, and Photojournalism work (or that you are one of my students and
thus have to read this guide!). If not, consider the resources listed in the list at the end of this essay (If you are not clear on the distinctions between Documentary, Reportage, and Photojournalism, check the Appendix at the end of this document). A further assumption is that you are engaged in a student or freelance project and not a contract assignment, although your efforts might ultimately find a client (whatever that may mean in your specific case). I've used the terms Documentary, Reportage, and Photojournalism because I find that this work intersects all these domains although it might primarily fall to the photojournalist. Although as professor at Willamette University I provide this document to my students, Willamette University does not control, monitor or guarantee the information contained in this document, or in links to other external web sites, nor does it endorse any views expressed or products/services offered therein. In no event shall Willamette University be responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any such content, goods, or services available on or through any such site or resource. Finally, this essay assumes relatively peaceful protest or social activism.
Fig. 2: “Damayan Migrant Workers Protest, New York City.” Members of Bayan USA, the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), Anakbayan NY/NJ, and Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE), protest migrant worker exploitation at the Philippine consulate in New York City, Summer 2008.
rotests, marches, rallies, and all other such social movement activities are examples of civic engagement designed to foster and bring about, or oppose, social change. Most often, such actions are undertaken by alliances of groups and individuals with shared interests and
grievances. To engage in civic activism is a way to exercise our public voice (where voice is metaphor for symbolic expression) and attempt to shape public life. Such activities are part of participatory democratic culture. The traditional understanding of social movements conceives of the same as large blocks of people demanding "something" and acting in concert in a public venue. We know however that a better understanding is to take the phrase social movement not as an easily bounded visible event, but as movement/change of social scope. Hence, social movement might be evolutionary, slow for us to discern, and often takes time in germinating and effecting desired change. Moreover, social movement might be engendered by multiple groups not always working in concert, and might not always be easily visible. What we see most easily are the various activities in which groups interested in promoting social change/movement engage. In this day and age of varied communication technologies, the planning, organization, and carrying out of civic engagement activities take many forms, not all of which involve physical concentration of people in a public space. Thus, capturing the ethos of civic activism requires good photographic imagination and an understanding of how new movements vary from what has been traditionally expected. Still, the photographer interested in photographing social protests, marches, demonstrations, vigils, and other examples of public group civic engagement activities will find plenty of opportunities to do so. If such is your interest you would be well advised to learn as much as you can about not just the specific event and cause, but about the effort, the issues at stake, the policy/legislation/issue field, social movements, and the variety of ways in which people engage in social change activities. The photographer also ought to have a very clear sense of why they are photographing the event or activity, and a passion for what they are doing.
Fig. 3: “Support the Lesser Evil, Washington, D.C.” The Ron Paul Revolution March, Summer 2008, in support of Ron Paul's candidacy for President of the U.S. was held even after it had become clear that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was the standard bearer for the Republican Party (a choice ratified in the Republican National Convention held in Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN, from September 1-4, 2008).
General Preparation Questions
good documentary, photojournalistic, or digital storytelling project requires careful attention to how you might craft the story you want to tell. Research and study of the context, the primary subject(s), actors, and implications of the events, will help you prepare
for the shoot, solidify a creative vision, and in crafting the story. In terms of preparation beyond the project goals, the photographer might ask:
• What are the key aspects of the story you want to convey?
• What do the various groups represented in the activity have in common? Civic activism is often undertaken by broad alliances of people and disparate groups coming together for a single cause. Which groups are present? Do their activities vary?
• How do these groups express their expectations, calls for change, demands? How does such expectations vary from the event organizers’ framing?
• What are the main communicative strategies of the organizers and participants?
• How is movement/activity energy generated and sustained throughout the event? Who is charged with such efforts? Are there known community leaders charged with generating such energy?
• What type of activity is it? Is it a radical revolutionary protest action, a peaceful, silent demonstration, a vigil, a "we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore" action, an image event designed to maximize media coverage of the group and/or effort? If the action overlaps a few of these categories, where do you see signs of the tension created by such overlap?
• How are the resources of the rally/protest/march/activity mobilized? For example, consider speakers, banners, placards, audio messages, music, performers, and presence. Do these elements differ by groups of participants?
• How is cultural conflict expressed, and how is it received/handled by the authorities? How is it likely to be represented by the media? What mechanisms are in place to handle "disruptions?"
• How is the event framed by the organizers? How is the event framed by the media? What does that mean for the photographer? How do you capture that framing, what chinks in that framing do you see?
• What micro-processes of social change are visible (e.g., voter registration, individual signing of petitions), and what macro processes? Which of those processes are conceptually, contextually, and aesthetically relevant for the story you wish to tell (for your project)?
• Where in the planned route for the march are there locations where particular activity might take place? For instance, are there bottlenecks that will require tight concentration of individuals? Where are counter-protesters located? Are there local offices or agencies of organizations along the route that are targets of the protest? Where might you position yourself for a particular shot?
• What symbolic events are planned? (e.g., cutting of ribbons, shredding papers, burning an effigy, red tape over mouth, etc.). When? Where? How?
• How might you best convey the story of what happened? Given the type of event, what kind of shots might capture the general framework of the day?
• How do the authorities respond to the event(s)? What can be seen in the expression of the representatives of the authorities? Of the organizers?
• How might this event vary from the previous one you shot? What makes this one different? It pays to outline your project in advance, and list the shots you need for it. The day of the event, take those shots and check them off mentally, moving on to the next as you complete each. It is also advisable to take a small notebook (or audio recorder) and jot down impressions, notes of the event, of shots, and of ideas for shots. Going back over such notes can help you round out the story you want to tell.
Fig. 4: “Watching You, Watching Me, Salem, OR” Anti-Immigration activists gather on the steps of the Oregon State Capitol as counter-protest to a demonstration led by Latino immigrant groups’ opposition to Initiative #112, the Respect for Law Act. February 2008. The Act would have allowed state/local cooperation and resources for immigration enforcement (deportation); documentation of citizenship for voter registration, and "legal presence" for driver/identification documents.
Fig. 5: “Oregon Works Because Immigrants Work, Salem, OR.” May 2006. Latino groups and supporters march around Salem, OR, as part of a protest against H.R. 4437, a bill that proposed the removal and deportation of all illegal immigrants living in the United States. The bill included jail-time provisions against citizens caught hosting or financially aiding undocumented immigrants, and revocation of driver licenses for those legally born in the U.S. who’s parents came over illegally.
Context & Scene
ince civic engagement/activism does not take place in a vacuum, all the variables listed above might change depending on context and type of activity/event. Stay informed about changes to schedules, planned activities, press coverage, weather, and any other element
likely to have an influence on your task. In concentrated urban centers, with lots of folks and demographic diversity, you might expect more variation in participating groups, counter-protests, and perhaps more radicalism -- certainly larger crowds and more crowd control resources from the authorities. Larger physical concentrations of people can lead to, or foment, particular responses (mob activity, daring acts, increased police presence...). Sometimes one person, or a group of persons, will engage in incitement/inducement of activity and as photographer you might want to follow along a bit to see what happens. Remember also that organizers of such events do have a message they want to disseminate. They will attempt to do so in multiple ways, including leafleting, evangelizing, distributing posters, stickers, and badges, and other persuasive communication activities. All such activities are fodder for the photojournalist. It is important to remember that although these activities are most frequently public events, and thus there is no real expectation of privacy for the participants, people might still feel suspicious of, and intimidated by, photographers. Be polite, be respectful, and be responsive to the cultural differences you are likely to encounter. Keep in mind also that some participants in social protest activities might consider individuals with photographic equipment, webbed belts, and what might look like “tech-gear,” to be part of the authorities. In one instance, a participant in a protest in front of the Oregon State Capitol ran away as I approached with my camera. His reason? He thought I was part of a Homeland Security effort to document those engaged in civil disobedience. Sometimes the authorities decide that they need to assert control over a portion or part of an event. For example, police might wish to break apart large concentrations of young people, or cordon off a specific area. Good things to notice are how such control tactics are employed, and what is the logic behind them. In other words, as in Chess, it behooves the photographer of social protest and/or social justice movements to notice how a move by one side/stakeholder can shape the situation and the conditions on the ground (if not for your own safety, then to develop an awareness of what might emerge that you can then photograph).
Fig. 6: “Veterans for Peace, Washington, D.C.” Summer 2008. Members of Veterans for Peace (VFP) march at the Ron Paul Revolution March in Washington, D.C. The VFP is an official non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1985 and represented at the United Nations.
What to Photograph
hat to photograph depends on your interests and project goals. It is good to arrive a bit early and see how podiums, stages, and/or routes are set up. Early arrival will help you figure out how to proceed, where are good spots for photographing, what is the
route/flow of the marchers, and other details. However, expect to take shots of folks marching, chanting, and waving placards. You might also take shots of folks with unusual placards/banners and/or outfits. Sometimes there are dancers, performers, painted participants, and/or mascots present in the activities. Rally organizers will likely have speakers, music, and other devices to motivate and raise the energy level of the crowd. All of these performances might help you round out the story you tell about the event. Depending on the participants and the context you might see all sorts of interesting activity, including tightening of social bonds, extending camaraderie to strangers, sharpened physical behavior, and heightened emotional response. Given the nature of civic activism you may have various factions/groups that stick together in solidarity. Often at marches and demonstrations regional, identity, or other affinity groups congregate. Also consider the flow of participants during a march. For example, if you look closely you may see that in the march portion of a social protest the core group of "believers" tends to be toward the center and the middle of the mass of people marching. Toward the edges in a march you may find those who join for a bit, and maybe get off at the next corner. The edges are fairly permeable and variable, and as such might see enough variation to warrant your photographic attention. Sometimes participants might carry large banners some carry puppets, or other effigies. Remember also those on the sidelines. They might be watching, shouting encouragement, or just counter-protesting. It might be beneficial to look for those encounters, for police activity, for sit-ins, and for what might be happening around the main stage with the groups that are at the front. Usually once the marching starts folks just follow as if herded and photographers can move along the sides of the march, or criss-cross the crowd, taking shots. At times you may find yourself running forward a bit to get ahead of the vanguard, or to get to spots along the route that you have scoped out in advance. In a social protest some folks will have bullhorns, others lead chants, some will try to dissuade any participants from unruly behavior (internal security), some will be tasked with carrying flags, and so forth. You might find people who like to pose for shots, especially if they have a message, placard, or outfit they want to show off. All of these folks and activities are a rich source of photographic material. There is also plenty of symbolic activity in these events, whether with flags or other iconic devices. For instance, groups of folks might have planned a particular activity that makes for great shots (e.g., dance, pyramid with a sign, burning an effigy). Don't forget the stage activity of speakers and organizers, nor the end of the event when everybody is heading home. The end of such rallies can be pretty interesting, as people leave sometimes worn and excited, with great expressions, in groups full of camaraderie, flush with the momentum and energy gathered -- or the opposite.
Fig. 7 (top): “Stand for Children, Salem, OR.” Fig. 8 (bottom) “Invest in Schools, Salem, OR.” February 2007. Parents and elementary school students take part in the Stand for Children school funding rally, at the State Capitol.
hotojournalism and Documentary photography does not equal paparazzi behavior. Your best defense in challenging situations, and your best work, lies with your professionalism and integrity, and thus with your credibility as a photographer/social documentarian. Your
perspective and point of view, especially your motivation for doing this kind of work, originate from the ethical principles you hold dear. If you truly want to be a photojournalist, are trying your hand at social documentary, or even if you want to play one, do yourself a favor and read the Code of Ethics of the National Press Photographers Association. Take a moment and do it now. Read also A Question of Truth: Photojournalism and Visual Ethics, by Donald R. Winslow at NPPA. NPPA also has three other interesting resources that should be essential reading for anybody interested in photojournalism and reportage work:
Best Practices for Independent Photojournalists http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/best_practices/photojournalist_practices.html Digital Manipulation Code of Ethics http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/digitalethics.html Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography (Follow the links on the sidebar) http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/self-training_resources/eadp_report/index.html
It is certainly the case that documentary and reportage photographers might have their own ethical considerations, and situations are different than when carrying out straight photojournalism for a news outlet, but studying these documents carefully can only help you. See also the American Society of Media Photographers Code of Ethics (http://ethics.iit.edu/codes/coe/amer.soc.media.photographers.coe.html). Besides having a rock steady ethical foundation, crucial issues that photographers ought to consider regarding ethics include but are not limited to: manipulation of images, issues of privacy, "truth telling responsibility," "objectivity," and conflicts of interest. What’s more, other ethical issues ensue related to the subject(s) and situations in which photojournalists often find themselves. Consider the case of South African photographer Kevin Carter. Carter won a Pulitzer prize in 1994 for his photo of a starving child on the ground while vultures waited for him to die. The image is brutal in its starkness, and how it assaults our comfortable position as viewer. It remains extremely controversial as it raises questions about what was, and is, the right thing for the photographer to do. Should Carter have dropped the camera and just helped the child? What responsibility do we have to our subject(s)? What about war photojournalists, or others trying to document social injustice, oppression, abuse? The issues are complicated, but critical to engage. The BBC has a good documentary site on Carter. Unfortunately, a thorough treatment of these issues goes beyond the scope of this guide. However, suffice it to say that these ethical considerations ought not be left for the end of any project. Photographic integrity and ethics does not take place at the end of an "assembly line" process of taking pictures, putting together the collection, and then thinking about what's left. Those of us interested in photography as vehicle for social change need to spend considerable time reflecting
on the implications and complications of our efforts. My suggestion is that photographers devote considerable time to grappling with these issues from the very outset of the project. As photographer you should already have addressed these concerns before embarking on the project, but every project might require re-evaluation of particulars. While you may not need to have final answers, keeping the questions alive and foremost in your mind, will serve as good guide. Note that depending on your role, expectations and responsibilities about your work might ensue. For instance, as documentary photographer your audience/client might operate under the assumption that your work meets a certain standard of objectivity, that you might have greater access to materials and/or data, that the parameters of the story have firmer boundaries, and so forth. Photojournalism work might vary from documentary in precisely those same aspects: less and/or more constraints in what and how the story might be told, choice of subject, access, and audience. It behooves the photographer to understand the expectations and assumptions and meet them responsibly and with integrity. If those expectations are not to your satisfaction, make sure you discuss it with your teacher, client(s), or if freelancing, craft the project differently. When photographing social protest activities it is best not to behave in a way that brings suspicion to your actions. Sneaking around, breaking into locations, trespassing, taunting participants or the authorities in order to get a photograph, defacing public or private property, are not only irresponsible, but make your task, and that of other photographers, more difficult and dangerous. With the level of suspicion directed at photographers nowadays, you’d be asking for trouble if you engage in any activity that the authorities consider suspect (and they have wide latitude).
Fig. 9: “Driver’s License and Immigration Salem, OR.” February 2008. Latino workers protest against provisions in Initiative #112, the Respect for Law Act, that would have required legal or citizenship status in order to obtain a drivers license in the State. The Respect for Law Act would have repealed current Oregon law that prohibits using state law enforcement resources for activities focused solely on enforcing federal immigration law.
Crafting the Story
eportage, Documentary, and Photojournalism are about communicating content and point of view. Your photos are the visual language you use to express your encounter with a particular moment in life. Hence, you have to be both image-maker and storyteller. Think of
your task as dramatically telling a story. Powerful Photojournalism, Reportage, and Documentary photography informs, reveals, narrates, and shapes perspective. As such, an additional assumption at this point is that as photographer you will be producing a photo essay, or submitting a set of images, rather than attempting to capture the event/situation in only one image. A simple journalistic scheme in telling a story is to answer the following set of questions: What, Who, When, Where, How, and Why. While you may start by reporting (what happened, to whom, when, where, how, and why), do not let your vision be constrained by that structure. Follow your vision and seek to create a narrative for the empirical data you collect. Remember however, that simplicity rules the day. Just as in written journalism, it is far more difficult to understand a story that is overstuffed with information. Another helpful scheme derived from literary and rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke centers on five key elements to human interaction: Agent (who did what), Act (what did the agent(s) do), Agency (how, by what means was the act accomplished), Scene (where, including in what context, was the act carried out. Think of background situation also), and Purpose (the why and wherefore that motivates the agent(s)). In considering these elements, a key question is: what does it mean when we visually treat and depict human beings as engaged in this type of action rather than seeing them just as following along? People might act in what we might call "auto-pilot," but that still reveals conditioning, purpose, external influence, and to the extent that later those same people provide explanations for their actions, we can discern intriguing processes of meaning-making. Bear in mind that these five terms share interrelationships, and that one or more of these might be dominant in a single shot or in the story. For instance, we might find that a particular photograph features an individual carrying out an action (an agent-act relationship), whereas in another one we primarily read context or situation (scene). The second one might be read from the vantage point of how the situation influences the actions of the agent, or the quality of the act. Of course, the role each photograph plays in your story might also depend on how you arrange or lay them out. An example of such variability is the classic photograph taken during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, of the student standing in front of a line of tanks bearing toward him (The Unknown Rebel by Jeff Widener, The Associated Press). That photograph could be used to feature the individual agent and his courageous act, or it could be laid out in such a way that it provides an understanding of the situation (crop and other effects can be used to add emphasis). You'll probably end up with more images than needed for your purposes (although as noted earlier, it is quite helpful to start with a list of the shots that you need). How do you select from the plethora of choices at your disposal depends on what story you want to tell, and/or the assignment or project focus. Once you have a selection of images laid out (the first cut) ask yourself: what's the story? What three images capture (or summarize) the essence of your story (or are most powerful in anchoring key moments in the story)? So what? Do the images have a natural narrative progression? Do you have close-ups, medium shots, and long shots that help break visual tedium, and provide context, vantage point for viewers, and information about the situation? Finally, think about what you might be asking of the viewer. Do you ask the viewer to be
extremely visually literate, to read your mind, or to understand the situation depicted in great depth? How you transform the visual record into an intelligible narrative is the key to your project. Choose aggressively. Be ruthless about your images. Does every image move your story forward? Remember to aim for emotive power. A powerful image lingers, it resonates, it stays with you and demands attention. Also keep in mind that structure (how we craft the plot) is the key to good narrative. A good narrative structure starts first and foremost with having something to say, having a good idea. David Halberstam puts it rather straightforwardly in Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer’s Guide:
“The idea is vital. Telling a good story demands a great conception, a great idea for why the story works— for what it is and how it connects to the human condition. It is about ideas, about narration, about telling a story. You must be able to point to something larger (12).
Now, Halberstam is not writing specifically about photojournalism but the point applies equally well. Although events at social protests might dictate some of the shots you take, as photographer interested in documenting participatory democratic culture you have to make wise choices consonant with the idea, concept, or creative vision—whether assigned or self-developed. Serendipitous shooting is no substitute for good craft, research, and vision. Here are a few prompts that can help you get started in laying out, or crafting, your story:
• What is the story? • How best might it progress? • What might hold the attention of your audience? • Why should they care? • Why should they listen to you? • Is the place and setting important? • Are the people depicted important? • Is the action the critical piece around which the narrative develops? • How might you punctuate the story chronologically? • How might you punctuate the story visually? • What is the node of intersection in a story? Where do various lines cross and come
together? • Is the ending a beginning of sorts? How so? • What background tale precedes the action or event? • What unfolding action provides a natural plot line for the story? • What might an agent’s actions tell you about their character? • How might a scene constrain an agent or shape their acts, or the means they select? • What image will serve as the starting point? • How might you end the story?
Finally, you won’t be able to tell a good story if you don’t read. You also won’t be able to deliver a powerful visual narrative if you don’t look at good photojournalism, reportage, documentary work, or other digital storytelling. Get in the habit of engaging those texts voraciously, seek to figure out what makes them successful efforts. Practice.
Fig. 10: “May Russia do to Israel, White House, Washington, D.C..” Summer 2008. Tourists in Washington, D.C. take in the protesters in front of the White House and Lafayette Park, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
ost any camera equipment will work for this type of photography. Photographers have different predilections, but in general zoom lenses will give you focal length flexibility so that you do not have to be changing lenses often. A short zoom range, say an 18-70mm
allows you to capture larger shots (wider) of crowds, and quickly zoom to isolate or close up somewhat when needed. In a DX body (non full-frame sensor camera) however, the crop factor might make that 18mm not wide enough (different brands vary). Other photographers might prefer to have more “reach” by using a longer zoom lens. Ask yourself what kind of shots you want and need to take? In short, what are your photographic needs for the event? A 24-120mm, or 18-105mm focal length range might be a good compromise if you expect to need more reach toward the long end. An 18-200mm might be the only lens you need for documenting social protest or civic activism (depending among other things, on how and where you may use the images, quality of reproduction, etc.), if you want to have enough focal range in one lens. I recommend having a fast lens, both in terms of AF (auto-focus), and in terms of aperture. A lens with at least an f/2.8 aperture would make a good addition to your kit. Keep in mind that some events might take place indoors. As such, you might need a lens with a wider focal length, a flash, a fast lens (think at least f/2.8), or a camera body that allows you to take great shots at high ISO. Consider "going light." Do you need all your equipment with you? What are the likely conditions you will encounter? Do you need long lenses, tripods, flashes, and filters? Since many jurisdictions nowadays ban the use of wooden or plastic sticks for placards, will authorities find your monopod a "threatening" object? Will your newly bought photojournalist vest (e.g. Newswear Chestvest) come across as paramilitary gear? Keep in mind that you may not want huge lenses sticking out while you scramble from one location to another, or when you are in the middle of crowds. Running/moving through a crowd with large equipment is not always easy or safe. There is great virtue in going light and carrying only that equipment which will allow you to move quickly, climb (if need be), and appear unobtrusive and non-threatening (depending on context), and do your job efficiently and effectively. A backup camera, extra memory cards, cleaning supplies, and extra batteries are good to have with you. Easy and rapid access to your gear should be a paramount consideration. Finally, dress professionally, and carry clear identification, along with copies of statements regarding your rights as a photographer (see list of resources below). Finally, consider carrying a digital voice recorder with you to capture ambient sounds and interviews, or to record any information that might help you design your story. Increasingly, photojournalists are being asked to do more multimedia work, especially slideshow presentations where images and audio are combined into a visual digital narrative. High quality audio capture will prove helpful should you want or need to put together one of those projects. An easy and affordable presentation software used by various newspapers is Soundslides.
Fig. 11: “Today we March, Tomorrow we Vote, Salem, OR.” May 2008. Pro-Immigrant rally and demonstration at the Salem, OR State Capitol. Children of undocumented immigrants number more than 5 million and constitute, according to the Urban Institute, "the fastest growing segment of the nation's child population." Yet, while many pundits and legislators call for resolution of unauthorized immigration into the country, as well as stricter border controls and workplace enforcement of laws against the hiring of undocumented workers, the children of immigrants are often left out of the debate.
Permits & Passes
ow, this may sound strange, but there is nothing truly magical about a so-called press or media pass, if you even get one. Let me be clearer: no single pass exists that will give you access to places where other people just cannot go. Sure, some organizations will at times
grant permits that designate you as a bona fide member of an entity with permission to be in a particular place for a particular purpose. In order to obtain such a permit you either have to work for the news industry, or for an entity that can get such access (that still says nothing about your photography work and how the images might be used). Since freelance photographers and students, are often not members of a media organization it might be difficult for them to obtain press/media passes. However, it pays to check with the event organizers for special passes and/or permits for photojournalists. Sometimes host, or participating, organizations want as much media coverage as possible and are flexible in granting press/media passes to photographers who seem quite professional in their interests and requests. Although enterprising individuals might be able to find templates for media/press passes through a quick internet search, in our highly security conscious environment such actions not only present ethical challenges, but are more likely to bring serious trouble. Faking credentials is a sure way to get in trouble and earn a bad reputation. You may carry a pass that identifies you as freelance photographer, and that provides appropriate identifying information. For most public situations you won’t need a press pass. You can always say “freelance” and proceed with confidence and or moxie. See where other photojournalists are, and do excellent work.
he preceding constitutes a very basic guide to photographing social protest and civic activism. Such activities may take many forms. Context, project and assignment needs, client expectations, and aesthetic vision/photographic imagination will no doubt shape your
photography beyond the suggestions outlined here. There’s much more to be covered, and perhaps a second part of this guide will tackle those other subjects. In the meantime, there’s nothing like going out and engaging in actual photo work. Enjoy the process, and make it a good day.
Fig. 12: “Love is All We Need, Salem, OR.” November 2008. Willamette University students participate in rally decrying California voter’s approval of Proposition 8, an initiative which restricted the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples and eliminated same-sex couples' right to marry. Proposition 8 was passed on Nov. 4, 2008 in an effort to override the California Supreme Court earlier ruling (May 2008) of marriage as fundamental right under Article 1, Section 7 of the California Constitution.
Appendix I: Resources
his is a very truncated list of resources. It is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely a list of quick reads to get you motivated. As you might imagine there are too many resources to list here. Use the following resources as a launching pad to other good sources of information
and inspiration. Websites & Online Articles
PhotoVoice.org: (documentary subjects as creators/producers) http://www.photovoice.org/ Collective Lens: (promoting social change with photography) http://www.collectivelens.com/index.php Salaam Garage: (creating independent social media that raises awareness – Amanda Koster) http://salaamgarage.wordpress.com/ The Digital Journalist: http://www.digitaljournalist.org/ American Photojournalist: http://www.americanphotojournalist.com/index.php The Photography Channel: http://www.photographychannel.tv/ Lightstalkers: http://www.lightstalkers.org/ Enter: Magazine of World Press Photo: http://www.enterworldpressphoto.org/ Fotovision: http://fotovision.org/pages/home.php Duke Univ. article on photography and the civil rights movement: http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2003/11/raiford1118.html The emotional power of photography and the civil rights movement: http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/04/03/8057/ Protest photography by Gil Hanly: http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/410/nuclear-free:-protest-photography-by-gil-hanly 1974 article on Sociology and Photography by Howard Becker: http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/becker.html Photography and Lesbianism, post-Stonewall:
http://www.glbtq.com/arts/photography_lesbian_post_stonewall.html Fifty Crows: Social Change Photography: http://www.fiftycrows.org/about/ Open Society Institutes' Documentary Photography Project: http://www.soros.org/initiatives/photography Bert P. Krages, II - Attorney at Law: The Photographer's Right: http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm David Bacon on Documenting the Movements for Social Justice: http://dbacon.igc.org/Art/01SocJus.html
Association Code of Ethics
Code of Ethics of the National Press Photographers Association. http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/ethics.html A Question of Truth: Photojournalism and Visual Ethics, by Donald R. Winslow at NPPA. http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2006/08/ethics.html NPPA: Best Practices for Independent Photojournalists http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/best_practices/photojournalist_practices.html NPPA: Digital Manipulation Code of Ethics http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/digitalethics.html NPPA: Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography (Follow the links on the sidebar) http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/self-training_resources/eadp_report/index.html American Society of Media Photographers Code of Ethics. http://ethics.iit.edu/codes/coe/amer.soc.media.photographers.coe.html Center for Media Literacy Code of Ethics for Photographers http://www.medialit.org/reading_room/article141.html
Books Amanda Koster, Can I Come With You? (Seattle, WA: Bennett & Hastings Publishing, 2008) http://www.bennetthastings.com/author.php?author_id=38
Cornell Capa, The Concerned Photographer (New York: Grossman Publishers) 1972
Howard Chapnick, Truth Needs no Ally: Inside Photojournalism (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press) 1994.
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 2003
Glenn Gardner Willumson, W. Eugene Smith and the Photographic Essay (New York: Cambridge University Press) 1992.
Appendix II: Definitions
hile Documentary, and Photojournalism might share similarities, there are differences we can tease out, and those might be applicable in particular when it comes to paid work and ethics. Here's a distinction posted on the Lens Impression weblog last year:
"So what then are the marks that define work as documentary? Perhaps fundamentally it involves thinking in terms of a project rather than in terms of simply photographing a situation. Then it means a commitment to that project in terms of time; where a photojournalist may jet in to a situation, take his pictures and be on the plane out in a matter or hours or a few days, the documentary approach may take weeks or months or years and often involve repeated visits. There is possibly a difference in the direction and approach; the photojournalist works to meet an editor's demands or because they believe the work will sell while the documentary photographer works because he or she considers the project important. Obviously no project can work without some source of finance, but for the documentary photographer this is enabling rather than determining the work. Finally there is perhaps a seriousness of purpose; photojournalism is often about trivia and celebrity froth whereas documentary tends to be more analytic and about more important matters."
We need to tease that out a bit more because the judgment of documentary as being “more analytic” and “about more important matters” is misleading. Essentially, while Documentary, Reportage and Photojournalism can all be said to be about documenting a situation or event, most Documentary photographers might not have the latitude that the photojournalist has regarding treatment of subject. For instance, those engaged in Documentary photography are often involved in long-standing projects in an attempt to document, archive, and substantiate/reveal something that is quite frequently not as privileged to the public eye, and which the photographer wishes to make known and explore in depth. In fact, the material to be documented might very well be obscure, partial, or fragmented. Documentary photography is quite frequently revelatory in the excavating sense of that word. Documentary projects are often considered to fall within an artistic ethos. And photographers might be constrained by access to materials, and cultural expectations about the supposed objectivity of documentary work. This of course might vary tremendously, as different types of documentary projects might give the photographer different latitude. Consider the work of social documentarians working on what is commonly referred to as photography for social change. Amanda Koster is a good example of such a documentary ethos, deeply committed to social justice, she is an acclaimed international photographer devoted to documenting compelling issues around the world. Her recent organization Salaam Garage organizes social documentary trips to various international destinations, connecting participants with International NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) to foster creative social awareness projects.
Photojournalists consider themselves to be operating within the journalism field, their subjects are frequently public matters, the photographs needed are often assigned by others -- along with perspective and/or point of view, the work is often not undertaken as artistic exploration, and they may or may not have access to certain materials in conducting their work. Moreover, photojournalists are often covering topical and current news events. Not unlike Documentary photographers, photojournalists are constrained by cultural expectations regarding "the Media,"
and/or the Press. Photojournalistic work can and does have documentary function, although such designation might come after the fact.
Consider the above a set of general boundaries in place to help us make simple distinctions (we may run into more difficulty when we try to impose such definitions on actual work). Photojournalists do not necessarily work for media/press outlets. Consider, for instance, the Wedding Photojournalists Association (WPJA).
Many other distinctions can be drawn out. Some folks consider Reportage to be different from Photojournalism, assigning the label to freelance photojournalists and/or to a personal account by a photographer on a particular subject/event. Others consider Reportage a blend of Documentary and Photojournalism, the "cultural studies" approach, seeking to capture a slice of life as it is, and thus brings an eyewitness, or witnessing and recording of cultural life, ethos to the work. Another type of photographic work frequently associated with Documentary and Photojournalism because of its presencing/witnessing of everyday life is Street Photography. Street photography is, for me at least, not merely taking shots in public, but deploying an artistic vision that reads and captures slices of what we call public life. It might be motivated by such persistent questions as: How do our daily lives unfold? What social forces pull us together or separate us? How might the built environment organize our living patterns? What are the implications of particular interactions between us and our living spaces, contexts, etc? As such, Street Photography has a very clear documenting ethos. The best Street photography tends to be reflective, a kind of Reportage that can take place with perhaps a well captured shot. In my estimation Street Photography should not be confused with yet another kind of photographic “witnessing” pursuit referred to as "Candid" photography. Follow this link for my thoughts on that: (http://www.willamette.edu/~ncordova/Street Photography or Candid.pdf).
Appendix III: List of Photographs
Figure Title Cover Page “Freedom March 2008, Washington D.C.” Figure 1 “Truth, Reason, Ignorance, Washington D.C.” Figure 2 “Damayan Migrant Workers, New York City” Figure 3 “Supporting Evil, Washington, D.C.” Figure 4 “Watching You, Watching Me, Salem, OR” Figure 5 “Immigrant Right’s March, Salem, OR” Figure 6 “Veterans for Peace, Washington, D.C.” Figure 7 “Stand for Children, Salem, OR” Figure 8 “Invest in Schools, Salem, OR” Figure 9 “Oregon Driver’s License & Immigration Rally, Salem, OR” Figure 10 “May Russia do to Israel, Washington, D.C.” Figure 11 “Today we March, Tomorrow we Vote, Salem, OR” Figure 12 “Love is All We Need, Salem, OR.”
About the Author
athaniel (Nacho) I. Córdova, is Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies at Willamette University, a private liberal arts university in Salem,
Oregon. He teaches courses on Latino Discourse, Public Moral Argument, New Media and Technology, Race, Ethnicity and the Public Sphere, and other contemporary rhetorical theories. He also serves on the faculty of the Latin American Studies, and the American Ethnic Studies programs. His primary areas of research revolve around issues of political subjectivity, the complications of public religious discourse, social change, and Puerto Rican political identity. Nacho writes and lectures on how public discourse mediates and negotiates political access and participation in society, and has worked throughout his career on minority outreach and public awareness campaigns. Nacho is an avid photographer (Exposure Latitudes, LLC) whose photography interests revolve around socially conscious photography and photojournalism work. He blogs at Exposure Latitude(s).com, a photoblog on photography as socially mindful practice. Nacho can be reached at [email protected].