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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Posed photos make one ask, "What is photojournalism?"

File photo? An image by stock shooter Olga Lyubkin and sold by fotolia.

Sometimes you see an image and you just know it isn't journalism. I confess, in the old days posed shots in newspapers were all too common. I can recall when I first became a shooter for a newspaper that the head of the department was a weekend wedding photographer and he let his wedding shooter aesthetic poison his eye for photojournalism.

This was the early '70s and a then teenage reader, the late Paula McLarty of Sault Ste. Marie, made me aware of the pitfalls of managing the images shot for the newspaper. She was very perceptive, many readers are, and she could spot the real from the faux and she could not understand why we bothered. News photographers should bring the world into our homes, not deliver trite, managed advertising images to our doorstep.

I became a member of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), I attended Flying Short Courses and for more than a decade I ran a photojournalism seminar held annually at Western University in London, Ontario. The London Free Press, then owned by Walter Blackburn, generously supported the local seminar. The paper even sent a dozen or so copy editors to the Saturday portion of the event. Photography was important.

I'd like to say we never faked an image. Now and then, we did. But as a rule we used local people who actually were involved with the story. We just managed the moments, we posed the subjects to create "better" images on the page. Paula would have been quite rightly appalled.

By the time I retired I posed very, very few pictures when illustrating an action. I had learned that reality had its own beauty, its own aesthetic and must be respected.

Sadly, the lessons taught at the locally held seminars have now been forgotten. Images that are far more plastic than anything I ever produced are becoming the norm thanks to the insensitivity of media owners Sun Media / Quebecor.

Almost 60 years have passed and the late Paula McLarty's views on what constitutes photojournalism and deserves to be in a daily paper are still relevant.

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