#Phonar Session 2 – Fred Ritchin ‘After Photography’ Reflection.

Fred Ritchin, previous picture editor of The New York Times and now professor at New York University, published After Photography in 2008. Throughout this talk, Ritchin discusses the various elements that have caused the photograph to become the image. We have arrived at a place where photograph’s have lost a lot of credibility – “who believes photographs anyway”? He talks about how it has now become difficult to depend on photographs or video without thinking they have been manipulated. Having worked briefly as a photographer, Ritchin felt as a picture editor you are able to have much more impact by arguing for the more interesting pictures. In 1994/1995, Ritchin was set the task to take the daily newspaper and creating a multimedia form to enhance survivability. A 6 week assignment began as a new idea for the web showing people trying to make peace in Bosnia, with a non-linear narrative making the reader feeling like they were there and making their own decisions. However some things were unachieved due to technology limitations and the project was rejected by the Pulitzer committee as it was not on paper. “After Photography put out the idea that digital media has a different architecture than analogue media”. With the knowledge that digital photography was a way to describe the world differently, this encouraged more experimentation. Ritchin’s most recent book Bending the frame published in 2013 considers the realisation thats sometimes it’s good to be pragmatic and show examples. Ritchin also talks about how what we considered marginal has now become mainstream, whereas what was mainstream is now collapsing. He draws to our attention a project which shows what different areas of the world would look like in 50/60 years due to climate change – a useful way of using the media. Finally, Ritchin leads us to consider how to make the best of the professional and the amateur and how do you build a bridge with these new forms of media?

When, how and why did the photograph become the image? There are a huge number of elements that contributed to this change but mainly the influence of the digital era. Every day we see our photography world changing around us in many different forms but can we say that we find any of it surprising? Fascinating yes, but is it making photography more useful or more doubtful? Ritchin began the talk by explaining ‘the strategy we accept in documentary is the idea that we frame something – we’re not moving in or out other figures’. Today we find that images can be so heavily edited that we are left wondering what is a true representation of a moment, essentially losing that ‘framing’ of something leading to ‘photographs losing a lot of the credibility’. With technology continuing to advance and the amount of manipulation continuing, surely this problem is only going to get worse. Does this mean that photography will no longer be a reliable resource, or has it been this way for a while?

Something I found interesting was when Ritchin spoke of the 6 week assignment showing people trying to make peace in Bosnia for the web. This was immediately rejected by the Pulitzer committee as it was not on paper. Whilst the idea of creating a new idea for the web was seen as beneficial by engaging people on a multimedia platform, the Pulitzer committee completely contradicted this by rejecting the project and sticking to ‘norm’ at the time. As well as this, “serious journalism could not exist unless it was on paper”. How is it considered that something digital was anywhere less genuine than something that could physically be held in your hand? It surprised me to learn that many institutions were slow to investigate new possibilities of digital stories whereas now we see them everywhere. Quite possibly, digital stories could be seen more popular due to convenience, quick access and availability of huge amounts of information. Whilst at first it was not ‘accepted’, now it is seen as the norm.

Another thing that stood out to me was “photography does not celebrate itself but to be useful in the world to get us to a better place”. I felt the importance of this and knew it meant something to me, but the more I thought about it the more I kept questioning myself why. Why did it mean something to me and why has it lingered in my mind since? Photography has been a part of my life from a young age but until I actually began studying the subject at a-level, I was almost ignorant to it’s huge impact on the world. Photography allows us to tell stories, share messages, capture moments and much more. But this quote made me realise something. Rather than appreciating how great photography is as a ‘thing’, we appreciate the things it allows us to do. It is useful in the way it makes us achieve those things like telling stories and sharing messages. These stories and these messages can “get us to a better place”. This reflects just how powerful photography can be.

Building on this idea of ‘getting us to a better place’, it was interesting how Ritchin finished on the idea of encouraging the building bridges with new forms of media, allowing us new ways of understanding the world instead of waiting for the horrors. An example he used to support this was the project showing what different areas of the world would look like due to climate change in 50/60 years. By being able to see the affects before they happen, we can see the huge impact they could potentially have hopefully sparking the incentive to do something to prevent it rather than ‘waiting for the horrors’. Although these new forms of media can be seen as negative, they can also benefit us in other ways. Whilst we sit and watch our ever developing photography world change and shape around us, we can gain some of that control back and the credibility of images back by using these new digital forms in a positive way.

“God created man but now man has the power to make the world into his/her own image”.

Fred Ritchin’s talk can be heard here.


~ by victoriasimkissphotography on October 8, 2014.

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