Photojournalism in Focus

A panel of experienced photographers celebrated the craft of photojournalism in last night’s talk at the State Library of NSW. Carmen Juarez, Walkley Foundation intern, reports on “Photojournalism in focus – why we need news photography”.

Nick Moir, staff photographer at The Sydney Morning Herald and co-founder of the Oculi photographic collective, freelance photographers David Dare Parker and Andrew Quilty, and News Corp Australian photojournalist Craig Greenhill joined panel moderator Anne Davies, a senior investigative journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald to discuss all things news photography.

The evening’s discussion began with Davies describing the importance of the relationship between journalists and photographers – “photographers are a journalist’s eyes and ears”.

This quickly led to a discussion about the recent staff cuts in the phohtographic departments at Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. “We knew something had been coming for a long time,” said Nick Moir of the cuts, who described the aftermath as “gut wrenching”. “A lot of the photographers went home in tears,” he said. Moir said the recent changes had led to “the end of an era”.

A photographer with decades of experience, David Dare Parker spoke of being inspired to begin a career in photojournalism by photographic essays in magazines such as Time, who he would later go on to shoot for. When asked whether it was possible to make a living as a photojournalist today, Dare Parker responded “that’s a good question”. “It’s never been an easy way to make a living. If you’re not shooting continuously, that craft starts to disappear.”

Quilty spoke of the difficulties of working as a freelance photographer and having to take on work you would otherwise steer clear of. “As a freelancer, it’s hard to say no to any assignment,” he said.  On being asked by Time to join Instagram for a photo assignment he said “I joined up to Instagram very, very, very reluctantly”. Quilty did eventually warm to the format. “The first picture I posted on Instagram I got 5000 likes… you don’t get that sort of feedback generally”.

Quilty said he’d “thrown in the towel” on surviving as a freelancer in Australia. “That’s why I go to places like Afghanistan,” he said.  Quilty told the audience that he can’t cover breaking news events “because no one is going to take my picture when they can get it for free from Reuters or another wires agency.”

Andrew Quilty, Craig Greenhill, Anne Davies, David Dare Parker and Nick Moir at the "Photojournalism in Focus" Walkley Media Talk at the State Library of NSW

Andrew Quilty, Craig Greenhill, Anne Davies, David Dare Parker and Nick Moir at the “Photojournalism in Focus” Walkley Media Talk at the State Library of NSW

Moir added that people consuming news don’t realise that they depend on those who are “doing it for the love of it,” describing freelancers who were underpaid or not paid at all. “They depend on those willing to be seriously injured for your news,” he said.

The panellists also spoke about the changes in how photo content is used. “From a story you’d only put two or three pictures on, they now want a gallery,” said Moir. He argued that while there are advantages to changes in technology, changes could also lead to lesser-quality work. Greenhill noted that publications like The Daily Mail meant more competition for the news photographers out there. “You have to be faster,” he said.

An issue that all panellists agreed on was the continuing relevance of professional photojournalists in an age of citizen snappers. “We understand ethics. It’s about the truth. We know who the players are when they’re there. It’s about verified, crafted work,” said Dare Parker. “These are the things that set us apart from ‘citizen journalists’”.

The event was part of the Walkley Media Talks series.

– Carmen Juarez is currently interning at the Walkley Foundation, after completing her Journalism (Honours) thesis at QUT. Twitter: @CarmenJuarez

Photographs by Lesly.