Sunday, June 16, 2013

Photojournalism Bias

Image Source:
Image By: Ed Clark
Year: 1945
“Going Home”, a photograph taken by Ed Clark of a young black man playing as a part of the funeral train for Franklin Roosevelt, is emotional to say the least. I initially spent some time looking at the image prior to reading the caption. In doing this I immediately felt compassion for the man. As he stands in his uniform playing on the accordion it is clear that he is distraught, but plays with pride. The way that he continues to play as tears are visibly streaming down his cheeks suggested to me that he may have been playing for someone else. Noticing the woman most directly to his left and seeing her crying and burying her face I failed to notice what many other people may have noticed right away; all of the women in the background are white. Judging by their clothes and hair, the picture appears to have been from a time where race was a touchy subject in our country. After noticing this, I looked more closely and saw that while some of the women were upset, others appeared to be more turned off by the man playing and crying than whichever event was saddening others. This aspect gives the picture more dimension as it now becomes clear that the man is making a statement and standing out of his comfort zone to support something he cares deeply about. After reading the caption I imagine that the man is very proud to serve his country, and felt overwhelming patriotism following the loss of the president. Due to the magnitude of racial segregation at the time, many of the women may be displeased with his public display of emotion and they felt he did not deserve to feel saddened as “white people did”, because the president was not in fact black. As Professor Nordell mentioned in the video for this module, "Perspective and history determines a reaction to a particular image". The caption and the image together evoke many feelings that may not have surfaced had I only seen one or the other. The impact of both of them together is substantial.

Principle 1: Subject’s Expression
The expression of the main subject of the photo, the black man, is what the eye is first drawn to when you look at this picture. His face is full of emotion. You can tell that the man is struggling to keep it together, the tears stream down his cheeks and his face is strained as if he could break down entirely at any second.

Principle 2: What feelings does the image create?
The image is a very emotional one. I felt sad and empathetic for the obvious sadness and loss that the main subject is expressing through his face and tears. I felt displeased at the racial judgment and segregation that is evident. Additionally, the image made me curious as prior to reading the caption, I did not know the context of what else was happening outside of the image frame.

 Principle 3: Background compliments the composition
The background of the image helps to convey the message and compliment the expression of the main subject. While some of the women in the background appear as sad as the man, others look judgmental and displeased with his presence and music playing. The background helps to give setting and history to the foreground.

Image Source:
Image By: Amy Carr
Year: 2011
This image, taken of a young couple at what is likely their wedding reception, represents the truth. The photographer captured the couple’s expressions and the mood of the environment in a single candid frame. Contrary to the majority of pictures taken at weddings which are staged and edited, this black and white image captures a perfect moment with little or no manipulation from the photographer. The perspective utilized by the photographer suggests that the couple was unaware that the image was being taken. The joy and happiness on their faces as they celebrate is unremarkably natural.
To determine that this image is truthful I relied on my own sensation ad perception skills. According to the article on the ways of knowing, "you know certain things because you can see and perceive them yourself". In combination with the concept of emotion, it was very evident as soon as i saw this picture that there was no way it could have been staged or edited. Looking at the image I could press play in my mind and the couple would continue laughing and enjoying themselves. In this module, Shahidul Alam said "photojournalists want to make the good news happen". Considering that along with a quote from Professor Nordell as he commented "I wouldn’t want to photograph somebody in a way that I wouldn’twant to be photographed" this image encompasses all things good about candid photo taking. The photographer could have captured any moment during the reception, however he or she picked this instant. The couple is happy and will likely see this image and cherish it. 

Principle 1: Quality of Light
Being that this image is in black and white, it is very easy to identify what aspects of the photo have more light than others. The couple is clearly in a well light room as the light is reflecting off of their faces as well as off of the candle flames on the table before them. The light is good quality, and helps to assist the subject’s expressions in conveying the mood of the image.

Principle 2: Use of Thirds
The image is divided into thirds from top to bottom in this instance. The subjects clearly take up the center of the photo, falling more dominantly into the middle third. The lower and upper thirds being comprised of flowers and the wall background help to ensure that the subject of the photo is on the couple’s faces.

Principle 3: Depth of Field
Depth of the field is important in this image because it allows the couple to appear as though they have been brought forward for the viewer. The background windows and curtains are out of focus and very clearly far enough behind the couple that they are out of the way. Though you cannot tell precisely how far the windows are from the table, the photographer captured the distance using depth of the field. 

Image Source:
Image By: Unknown
This image, of Ashton Kutcher at a professional basketball game shows him seemingly disinterested as he looks down at his phone. Though a cheerleader or dancer stands in a portion of the screen, the image doesn't allow for a decisive look at what is happening on the court at that time. This image, I believe, is a misrepresentation of the truth. In the picture it suggests that Kutcher cares more about what is on his phone screen than what is happening in the game. The photographer captured him in a moment which, if considered by itself, implies that he cares nothing about the basketball game despite being a spectator in the stands. Had the photograph been a better representation of the truth, it would have utilized an angle that allowed the audience to see what else was happening at the time of the shot. The perspective and timing of the photojournalist set the tone of the picture, rather than allowing the context of Kutcher’s environment to display whether he was on his phone during the game, or during a timeout or halftime.
To determine that this image was a misrepresentation of the truth I considered the concepts of "Language/Authority" and "Emotion" from Oliver Kim's article on "The Four Ways of Knowing". In the article Kim suggests that language and authority can be a source of knowledge if someone has suggested an idea to you that you have now deemed a frame of reference for your own thinking. In considering this picture, I remembered the idea that being on your cell phone at a professional sporting even would be rude. Though the picture may suggest that Kutcher is on his phone while the game is going on, my authority from my parents leads me to hope that the photojournalist may have simply taken the picture while there was a timeout, and Kutcher may not have been being rude at all though not evident based on this frame. Additionally, the emotion on his face does not lead me to believe that he is invested in whats going on in the game. Kim's article says that "emotion allows for you to know that things are ethically not right". Emotion conveyed by him, and my own concepts of ethics hopes that there was not actual basketball happening at the time of the photograph. Had the photographer implored a different angle,  the picture may have become more truthful as the viewer would have been able to identify exactly what else was happening aside from Kutcher being on his cell phone.
The distortion and bias of images and perspective, although sometimes entirely wrong and hurtful can be used deliberately in photojournalism in order to evoke a particular feeling or response. In the article about yellow journalism from sparknotes, the author said "The whole point of yellow journalism was to produce exciting, sensational stories, even if the truth had to be stretched or a story had to be made up. These stories would boost sales." Whether or not yellow journalism was "right", it was effective. That same idea is employed by photographers and photojournalists today. As Shahidul Alam discussed in the video, A story has many truths at many levels”. This picture of Kutcher can be viewed in many perspectives depending on the amount of information given regarding context and timing. The decision to omit part of the image gives viewers such as myself falsified ideas about what was really happening when the photographer took the picture. Geoff Dyer, author of "The Ongoing Moment" had a quote to accompany Ed Clark's "Going Home" image. He said, What we have, in other words, is a vivid example of thecamera’s unique capability: not the creation of a myth but its depiction”. The camera, and subsequently the photojournalist has chosen the perspective, the technique, and the angle of the shot, consequently creating their own bias and depiction of the event. While not necessarily a myth, the shot may also not encompass a whole truth either. 

Principle 1: Keep it Simple
The picture is fairly simple in the sense that there is one main subject centered in the photo. The background of the picture is not distracting from the main subject despite the fact that it is busy with many people’s faces. In the foreground, the only other person is out of focus which makes it easier to see the man as the true subject of the image.

Principle 2: Is the photograph in black and white or color?
The photograph is in color, though the colors are mainly black and white. The color in the subject’s hat and the color of the dancer’s skirt are the only things that truly stand out from the rest of the color-scape.

Principle 3: In and out of focus
The photograph utilizes both in focus and out of focus aspects. The main subject is in focus, but the dancer, slightly offset to the right is clearly blurred. This out of focus effect helps to display that she is moving, and also assists in directing the viewer’s eye to the main subject who is slightly behind the legs of the dancer. Had the dancer been in focus, the true centerpiece of the image may have been less easy to identify.

No comments:

Post a Comment