Why photojournalism is still a real job

The World Press Photo exhibit proves that pros are pros, and everyone else is an amateur.

19_Steve Winter
Photo by Steve Winter

Scrolling through our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds gives us all the evidence we need to see that everyone’s a photographer these days. Mobile phones equipped with sophisticated cameras and editing software are in nearly every pocket, and high-performance digital SLR cameras are now affordable enough to be within the reach of many amateurs, hobbyists and dilettantes as well as professional photographers. It’s no surprise that media organizations struggling to adapt to new realities and less revenue across a very crowded arena are cutting loose experienced professionals in hopes that any yahoo with a cell phone can get the job done (see: The Chicago Sun-Times).

But take a walk though the World Press Photo exhibition at the Marché Bonsecours, and you’ll quickly see why we still need those rare individuals who are masters of their craft, and who are driven to use their skills to help us further our understanding of each other and the world we inhabit, often at great personal cost and risk, and for increasingly diminishing returns.

The 150 photos on display represent the work of 53 photographers from 25 countries, and were selected from a pool of 98,000 submissions. The photos are grouped into a number of categories such as News, Contemporary Issues, Portraits, Sports and Nature. Since these are press photos after all, much of the subject matter is serious and heavy, given the state of our global relations. Some of the images on display will break your heart, while others burst with carefree joy. What they all have in common is a powerful ability to connect the viewer to the subject in an immediate and empathetic way.

Farewell Mandela
Photo by Markus Schreiber

A good photo doesn’t just show you what happened — it shows you why it matters. These photos do just that, from the winning Photo of the Year by John Stanmeyer’s depiction of migrants passing through Djibouti City, raising their mobile phones into the night to pick up a signal from nearby Somalia, to my personal favourite, an image by Tanya Habjouqa of a group of teenage girls in a bright pink room, wearing cute mini-dresses, doing each other’s nails and charging their phones as they get ready to go to a school dance — a scene that’s rather mundane and commonplace for many of us, but remarkable because these are Palestinian girls living in the West Bank. Seeing them in this way, when the usual photos coming to us from Palestine are dominated by scenes of terrible destruction and mourning, fosters a sense of understanding and identification based in shared experience.

We can all identify with the stories relayed by these images, displayed larger than life in backlit installations, as they reflect back to us our greatest achievements and failures, our hopes and fears and our often troubled relationships with each other and our environments. The striking images in this collection and the narratives they represent are essential to contextualizing the headlines we see each day through a very human lens. ■

The World Press Photo exhibit at the Marché Bonsecours (325 de la Commune E.) runs until Sept. 28, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, till midnight Thursday through Saturday, $10–$12