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Photojournalists and Hipstamatic

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  February 14, 2011 09:00 AM

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Interesting debate going on among photojournalists about New York Times photographer Damon Winter's decision to use the Hipstamatic app on his iPhone to take some of the photos he shot while covering US troops deployed in Afghanistan.

DamonWinterPhoto.jpg

Damon Winter / The New York Times

It became a big deal when those photos won third place in the feature picture story category from Pictures of the Year International for a series Winter put together called "A Grunt's Life." The reaction from some quarters was pretty negative, such as this comment from photographer Chip Litherland: "...what we knew as photojournalism at it’s purest form is over and POYi just killed it. Well, they didn’t kill it so much as just dig another knife deeper into the back of its decaying corpse...."

Winter responded to the criticism with a statement he sent to the Poynter Institute (a journalism think-tank) because he couldn't take part in a chat they held on the topic. The Times re-posted his statement on its Lens blog. In part, he writes:

"I will always stand behind these photographs and am confident in my decision that this was the right tool to tell this particular story.

"We are being naïve if we think aesthetics do not play an important role in the way photojournalists tell a story. We are not walking photocopiers. We are storytellers. We observe, we chose moments, we frame little slices of our world with our viewfinders, we even decide how much or how little light will illuminate our subjects, and — yes — we choose what equipment to use. Through all of these decisions, we shape the way a story is told.

"I have no intention of becoming a camera phone photographer. I use it often for personal photos (my cat being my favorite subject), which suggests why it was the perfect tool to tell this particular story. It helped me make intimate pictures of a subject — the American soldier in wartime deployment — that is often seen only as part of a sizable, anonymous fighting machine. I cannot say if I will use the camera phone again on my job.

"People have covered war with plastic toy cameras. Most recently, Erin Trieb in Afghanistan. David Burnett used the tilt of his large format cameras to render major sporting events into miniature dioramas. Paolo Pellegrin creates exquisite black-and-white images of major news events around the world that often more closely resemble paintings than photographs, using the same digital camera we all use. Each photographer uses a technique or tool that helps him or her to best tell the stories and all of their work has been acknowledged and celebrated. None of these techniques are grounded on the idea of visual accuracy but they are effectively used to tell stories, convey ideas and to enlighten, which is the real heart of our work."

Read Winter's entire statement and view his photo essay on the Lens blog, read the Poynter chat transcript, and then weigh in below with your opinion.

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