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Why we need more creative photojournalism

To tell a story visually is difficult as any picture editor knows. You have to grab attention, communicate the essence of the story in an image and engage people so they follow through and read the article.

There's the old saying that a 'picture is worth a thousand words' and it keeps being used because it's true.

Getting people to pay attention relies on three elements working together - picture, caption and headline. Two of the three most important elements relate directly to photography. Pictures sell magazines, newspapers and website content.

Unfortunately editorial departments are under siege, often drained of human resources, budgets and under increasing pressure to take the 'safe' creative option as editors fight to keep the wolf from the door. There are many exceptions and numerous editors who will take risks and put their necks on the line to support good photography – thank goodness. Most editors are just trying to maintain the status quo. This is not good enough.

In the face of fierce competition they should be enabling their creative team to produce art that is going to win readers: images that stand out, that are more creative, that will be remembered.

For example rather than an image of a poster or screen showing the faces of missing people, which is the same old tried and tested safe option, why not do something like this...

275,000 people go missing every year in UK

Missing People, the charity that helps both the disappeared and those left behind, told the Independent Newspaper that more than 250,000 missing persons reports are filed each year. The Independent's sources suggest the total in 2009 was closer to 275,000.

The Independent reported: "This, the equivalent of the entire population of Plymouth being spirited away, means that, across the country, one person goes missing every two minutes.”

Most are found or return soon after they have been reported missing but as many as 20,000 disappear completely, sometimes for decades, many forever.

My image is an artistic/editorial interpretation of the story. It was taken in Kings Cross, one of the locations where CCTV cameras sometimes provide the last glimpse of an individual arriving before they disappear.

The idea behind the image was the 'footfall' of thousands of passing people every day and how they can just disappear – graphically illustrated by feet and ghostly figures. The monochrome blue toning helps convey mood and emotion.

A still image can have layers of meaning and a depth that video does not have. Still images confront the viewer with the essence of the story in one split second. Photojournalism and still images in particular offer editors an extremely rich opportunity to gain and hold audience attention. The challenge is to find the creative talent that can go beyond the obvious and stimulate, intrigue and capture readers.

Hopefully my creative efforts demonstrate the point I am trying to make in this article. Your feedback and comments are welcome.

Till soon,


Max Colson said…
Hi Paul,

Nice post; for more on the same theme there's a nice interview with Martin Parr on Bint Photo Books**

He says (with the benefit of being an established photographer who has an extensive list of contacts)

"I’m not waiting to be assigned. I go to places I want to go and see how they fit in. If I wait for the phone to ring, for me to go to the places I want to go, it’s not going to happen."

I think what you mention is also true. Photojournalists need to stop being so literal; documentary does not just mean take pictures of exactly what is in front of you...
Looks wonderful. Great reading your post as well.Thanks.

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