It Can Always Be Better

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

iPhones and Real Photographers

John H. White (left) and Brian Jackson.
Photo: George LeClaire/Daily Herald
Late May, 2013 the Chicago Sun-Times announced the firing of their staff photojournalists. According to management, these skilled men and women will be replaced with by writers with their own camera phones. That has got to be the biggest joke of the century. If I sound biased, I am.

Over 20 years ago I was introduced to one of those fired photojournalists. His name is Brian Jackson. I was enrolled in a journalism program for high schools students called Exposure. Sponsored by the Chicago Association of Black Journalists, Exposure connected students such as myself with a mentor who was a professional in our field of interest. That eventually led to a copy clerk position at the Chicago Tribune (so far, they still have photojournalists). That connected me with another very gracious and hard-working photojournalist named Milbert Orlando Brown.

Needless to say, I was very inspired by Mr. Jackson. We even looked like kin. Folks saw me with him and asked "Is that your son?" He was taught by another Sun-Times photographer, John H. White. Mr. Jackson is a bold photographer and great teacher. I remember when he showed me the bullet hole in his car from some angry person he photographed. We talked about the bullet-proof vest that saved his life after trying to sneak some pictures of a man selling illegal drugs. As I was just a wide-eyed senior in high school, he never took me on such assignments. But it was magical to hear about them!

The best experience I had with him was on an assignment to photograph the Chicago Bulls basketball game on the west side of Chicago. Wow! We had 15 minutes to get in and make good pictures that told the story. Then we had about 30 minutes to get back to the Sun-Times darkroom, process, print and turn in pictures. I was hooked.

So for the next few years, and into college, I was focused on photojournalism. From doing my own freelance work and being a staff photojournalist for many newspapers such as the Reporter Progress Newspapers and a handful of Gannett newspapers, I knew what kind of artistic skill went into telling stories with pictures. The camera—be it the latest Nikon SLR or iPhone—does not make good pictures! Same goes for lenses and lights. Fast-thinking, attention to detail and appreciation for the environment of your subject through the lens makes good pictures.

Change is the essential process of all existence, said Mr. Spock in the Star Trek episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. So with lack of revenue—and managerial creativity—we are seeing the news business experiment with the foolish assumption that writers make good photojournalists. I hope those who are interested in photojournalism will continue to make history. You cannot write a good picture. You must make a good picture—and that takes a skilled photojournalist.

Special thanks to Mark Black, photojournalist at the Daily Herald, for helping me obtain rights to publish the above photo.

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