Great Photos: 3

By | January 25, 2007

Extraordinary Places


This photo by Russell Davies reminded me how valuable our viewpoint can be to others who are denied the same opportunity. I don’t know if Russell had special privileges but it looks like a dangerous place to be (an aircraft engine).

The value of some photographs comes not from their technical quality but from the unique way they are able to transport the viewer to a time or place otherwise inaccessible. This inaccessibility can be to do with time or location and is why we have photo-journalism. Indeed the technical quality can be an obstacle to the credibility of some pieces of work.

The introduction of the digital Beta-Cam format to television newsrooms presented one such issue. The sparkling, crisp quality of news images from war-zones made the coverage look like a TV drama rather than a hastily shot news piece. I remember seeing Jeremy Bowen reporting from Israel and thinking it was a specially shot promo with lighting!

Paradoxically, the clearer the image the less believable it is and this is a fact which is being considered as High Definition is being introduced. In some cases the deliberate degradation of image quality is desirable for achieving an appropriate style. I guess we have come to associate grainy black and white images with reality and full resolution colour with marketing.


Those revolutionary shots taken on a mobile phone during the London bombings have shaken traditional journalism. News teams are realising that the public is now able to capture more immediate and intimate images of events than reporters. Importantly, they are also able to distribute them to a worldwide audience. In some cases a bloke with a phone can, without any planning, capture a human drama and transport us into a unique and private world effortlessly. Technology has pulled the rug from under journalism’s ability to control the way the world is seen and events reported.

The point I’m trying to make is that we should not underestimate the value of our own view of the world and the opportunities we have to capture what we regard as very ordinary images. I’m excited by the way people are grabbing shots ‘on the fly’ with little concern for the technical quality and yet the impact and interest of such shots can be very powerful.

To someone on the other side of the world even the most ordinary shot can seem extraordinary; the challenge for us on this side of the world is to understand that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *