Photojournalism under fire

I don’t doubt the need for photojournalism and I’m aware that what I’m about to do is, in a lot of senses, offensive, particularly to the experiences photojournalists go through in order to document situations that are horrible, unimaginable, experiences one really has to go thorough in order to understand what they’re about. 

Having said that, that personal experience should not justify what a photojournalist then goes on to do and the sort of imagery he/she creates. Maybe the ethics that rule a person’s actions are not the same that rule the making of a body of images. I said maybe, but I firmly believe this. Photography is a very complicated machine. It is imprisoned in several codes and a photojournalist knows that. In the aftermath of the fires that have been eating up our forest, since last Saturday, I came across two different works, from two very different photographers and I want to try and look through them and discuss the questions they arise.

Again, I’m aware this is not the smartest thing to do, but both these body of images have stuck with me for the last few days, so I’ll try and lay a couple of arguments. One the one hand there’s Adriano Miranda‘s photographs, for Público; on the other hand there’s Ricardo Graça‘s photographs for Jornal de Leiria. Adriano is a well-known photojournalist. He has done is all and he works for one of the biggest newspapers in Portugal. The quality of his work has been recognized by his peers and this particular gallery of images has been praised by many. Ricardo’s work is new to me. He is a lot younger and works for a regional newspaper. Below are their two galleries, which I saw in the respective newspapers:

 

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I want to try and stick to what the images tell me and, for starters, I would say that Ricardo is closer to that reality than Adriano. Maybe he knows the region well, maybe not, but although both keep their distance, Ricardo seems to know his way into the small villages and his portraits are closer (the images above are just a selection from a larger body of work). On the other hand, it’s pretty evident that Adriano has a lot more experience and one sees his perspective, his subjectivity. His photography has matured and the references are all there. Adriano’s images also have a coherence, that Ricardo’s lack. While the dark, bluish, lynchian tone that is present in Adriano’s photographs gives us a sense of narrative, of a continuity that sort of legitimates his role as a participant, Ricardo’s style seems a bit all over the place and yet to mature.

In Ricardo’s images I see an empathy for the living thing; in Adriano’s I do not. In fact, I see a pit between him and that living thing. It’s harsh of me to say this, I know, but Adriano’s pictures of the burnt cow and the death deer are just gruesome, shot from above (I’ve mentioned this already, so am not going into it again). While talking to a friend about Adriano’s images, he mentioned they were beautiful and they reminded him of Gregory Crewdson’s photographs. Isn’t this indicative of the problem? Should one feel, while looking at this sort of images, where one should find informative value, that they aim at beautifying the reality they document? Or is it that beauty, that magnitude, that succeeds in giving us an idea of how overwhelming this tragedy is?

I crossed paths with Ricardo’s work because one of this photographs depicts my sister-in-law, on the roof of her house. Because I listened to her account of the events, among many others that have surfaced for the past few days, I feel Ricardo’s images are a more truthful document of what happened, how people had to organized, escape, fight the fire, wait for a road to reach their loved ones or get away. On the other hand, when I look at Adriano’s images, what I think is that he can go on to win an award with this. See the difference? I understand their value, they’re cinematographic, they aim at the sublime, but they sort of loose their referent, as if they could be a document of any other fire, in another part of the world. In fact, the way they’re composed and the references they evoke, immediately give me a sense of an american reality, in between Lynch, Crewdson and Gus van Sant. Is this what makes a good photojournalism, meaning that he/she has to be able to construct a fiction with the events he/she is forced to document? 

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