W. Eugene Smith, Photo Notes, 1948

Creative Camera, August, 1971, page 256

It is the responsibility of the photographer-journalist to take his assignment and examine it - to search with intelligence for the frequently intangible truth; and then very carefully (and sometimes very rapidly) work to bring his insight, as well as the physical characteristics of the subject to his finished pictures.

It is important that the inspiration for the interpretation should come from a study of the people or places to be photographed. The mind should remain as open and free from prejudice as possible and the photographer should never try to force the subject matter into his or the editor’s preconceived idea. Too often, an assignment is given, the photographer reads the instructions and the suggestions, and then follows them without much more thought-except to photograph as closely as possible to what he believes are the desires of the editors. All too frequently, due to faulty research, to inadequate knowledge or to the preconceived notions just mentioned, the directional theme of the assignment is a misconception of the living actuality. But because he does not wish to offend the editors who pay him his bread money, the photographer frequently tries to make his story conform to someone else’s shortsighted or warped judgement.

The photographer must bear the responsibility for his work and its effect. By so much as his work is a distortion (this is sometimes intangible, at other times shockingly obvious), in such proportion is it a crime against humanity. Even on rather ‘unimportant’ stories, this attitude must be taken-for photographs (and the little words underneath) are moulders of opinion. A little misinformation plus a little more misinformation is the kindling from which destructive misunderstandings flare.

The majority of photographic stories require a certain amount of setting up, rearranging and stage direction, to bring pictorial and editorial coherency to the pictures. Here, the photojournalist can be his most completely creative self. Whenever this is done for the purpose of a better translation of the spirit of the actuality, then it is completely ethical. If the changes become a perversion of the actuality for the sole purpose of making a ‘more dramatic’ or ‘saleable’ picture, the photographer has indulged in ‘artistic license’ that should not be. This is a very common type of distortion. If the photographer has distorted for some unethical reasons, it obviously becomes a matter of the utmost gravity.


2007-12-31 22:17:03



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