We were flattered and honored when asked to write a guest blog – and, we were told, we could write about whatever we wanted. But, we wondered, why us? What could we possibly have to say to the readers of this blog?
Visitors to our photo gallery frequently ask us, “are you THE photographer?” (that may be flattering, but not if you happen to have photographs from the early 1900’s on exhibit); or, “are you A photographer?” (“no, we leave that to the experts”). Truth be told, besides taking pictures of our children when they were young, we have no real camera experience whatsoever and could not by any stretch be considered “photographers.” So, stop here if you want technical advice or news on the latest digital accessory, plug-in, or wiz-bang program.
As gallerists concentrating on photojournalism, what we do know is that the way a great photograph can capture time, emotions, and experience is what makes photography a unique art form. There is a certain mystery about a photograph that captivates viewers and causes them to pause in thought and remembrance, and maybe, just maybe, change the way they think.
Throughout our careers we have been privileged to know, or to have known, many committed photographers who have created a visual record of the times we all live in. Within each of these beings exists a drive and a determination to tell the story. At the very beginning of our careers, Alfred Eisenstaedt told us that the photographer's job "is to find and catch the storytelling moment." And that is how we have looked at photographs ever since.
So we decided to take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedicated photojournalists who have been, and continue to be, there to bring the voices and the images of the people to us all through photographs. And, in the process, we’ll affirm the place for storytelling in the 21st Century.
To some, the single image seems almost “quaint,” if not obsolete, in today’s world. We are told that video, multi-media, and “platforms” are the way to tell stories. And, we are bombarded by images throughout our daily routine: photos are sent instantly by mobile phone; the internet is literally saturated with every image conceivable; and the pictures on the TV news and in newspapers and magazines are almost an afterthought. So, is there a place for the story of the single image?
We were too young to remember, at that time, the published pictures of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, but rather have memories of those events from the reactions of adults around us at the time. Today, photographs of these leaders connect generations not only with their causes and ideals, but with the tragic and violent end to these leader’s lives – all of which were captured on camera.
However, we do remember vividly the daily publication of photographs from the Vietnam War, and the nightly footage on television news. These images communicated the stark reality of war in a way words could never describe. We could not fully comprehend the politics and issues of that war, but because of those photographs, we came to understand what war was.
(Consider that for the past 10 years, the world has seen very little from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Can you cite “iconic” images of these wars, as compared to the now-classic images from World War II and Vietnam? Photojournalists from many leading news organizations have of course been covering the conflict, and what has been missing from the newspapers will be presented in the forthcoming book by Michael Kamber, Photojournalists on War, a groundbreaking new visual and oral history of America's nine-year conflict in the Middle East. We recommend that everyone get this book – there are a few limited edition copies left.)
In the 1980’s, we were extremely fortunate to get to know the great Life photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. At one of our first meetings, he shuffled through stacks of prints and history came alive before our eyes: Goebbels, Hitler, Mussolini, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Churchill, the Kennedys, and everyday people and extraordinary locations of the 20th century – frozen forever in a single frame. Eisie introduced us to Carl Mydans, who once wrote: “Sometimes people have asked me why I devoted so much of my life to covering these terrible scenes, these disasters, these wars. The answer always has been that what I am doing is important, and that’s why I am here. I am making a record of historic times.” (If you are not familiar with Mydans’ photographs, you owe it to yourself to find out about one of the most unheralded photojournalists of all time.)
Our course was set, and for decades now we have worked to enhance the understanding of photojournalism and promote the work of photojournalists in print form. In the beginning, many photographers were nothing short of incredulous; completely unconvinced that anyone would care to see their pictures outside of a magazine or newspaper. It continues to be our unwavering belief that history lives on beyond newsprint.
Perhaps it is the same with every generation, but the challenges humanity as a whole faces today seem to be enormous. From the politics of your local hometown, to the platform of the national stage, to the innumerable issues facing people and countries world-wide, these are tumultuous times. Yet at the same time, if one so chooses, it is very easy to simply block out the inconvenient truths of our time, or to blame it on “the other side”. Of course the world is more complex than that, and there are thousands of dedicated photojournalists covering critical issues and events in every corner of the world right at this very moment, some at great peril and personal risk. The stories their pictures tell are critical to helping us all confront and understand complex issues. Their photographs will be a record for historians in the future and will inform future generations of events that shaped the world they inherited.
And despite what you may have heard, these pictures are out there to be seen. Even sometimes in newspapers and magazines (The Guardian and Telegraph not only publish good photo stories, but have dedicated sections for photography on their websites.) Find out about some of the important work being done at photo agencies such as NOOR and VII Photo, to name just a couple; and collectives such as Facing Change: Documenting America; and by all means be sure to check out TIME’s LightBox and Photojournalismlinks. Sometimes, to see, one has to look.
Our current exhibition presents photographs of select human rights struggles, and the exhibition has affirmed our steadfast belief in the power of a photograph. The exhibit’s press release stated “Photographers in this exhibition illustrate the power of photography to inform, persuade, enlighten and enrich the viewer’s life.” Visitors to the gallery may not know what to expect when entering, and some have whirled about to face the front desk and exclaim “This is serious!” Today a gentleman said to us, “Well, I’ve seen some beautiful paintings, but this makes you think”. We have seen parents quietly explaining the situation behind a photograph to their children, we have seen people softly weeping, we have been asked “why do you show this?” and the quiet of the gallery has occasionally been startled by someone gasping “Oh my God!”
It is this quality that has caused photography to become the main medium of our times. It is this “storytelling moment” that in fact defines photojournalism. Joe McNally wrote “What I truly believe about a powerful picture is that after viewing it, you are never the same. You have been changed, forever. You might not realize it at that moment, but you are.” And we think that is exactly correct.
So, as we started, we take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedicated photojournalists who have been, and continue to be, there to bring the voices and the images of the people to us all through photographs. We honor your commitment and service to humanity. The word “story” is often misunderstood to mean a “tale” or a fictional narrative; but its actual definition is simply “history.” Let us all open our eyes, and see the stories that form our collective history.