©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia
“Cameras have gotten so good nowadays, any old lady in tennis shoes can take a good picture.” Those words, spoken by a college journalism dean, pretty much sums up a popular belief about photography. But they were spoken 20 years ago, when I was a student and digital cameras were just a gleam in a techie’s eye. So I’m little fazed when people says cameras are so easy and plentiful “everyone is a photographer” or that newsrooms will be replaced with cheap labor . “You mean you just take pictures?” I’m sometimes asked, incredulously. Even as the barriers to enter photojournalism lower, there is still the reality that, like news-gathering, it’s demanding and expensive. I’m reminded of this while shooting a high-rise condominium which caught fire in downtown Chicago, killing one and injuring several others. My assignment was to take day-after pictures. In addition to shooting other photos of the aftermath, I was able to secure permission to photograph from a nearby building. For many hours, at the bequest of an editor, I was in the cold with no food and water waiting for someone to pass through these windows. But waiting hours on a big news story for a picture that might not happen is normal. The courthouse, city hall, the governor’s home…I’m pretty sure that if I were anyone but someone on a newspaper staff, there would be greater pressure to bolt. But persistence like this is often rewarded with a tangible piece of information that becomes the basis for a bigger story for our readers. Sometimes you get zip. Sometimes, despite all creative efforts, your image is..meh. Sometimes an investigation gets launched or an amazing picture lands like a UFO in your front yard. You just never know.
So I’m standing there, thinking about this stuff, and a resident comes out with his iPhone. He takes a picture of the structure and walks away after only a few seconds. Were I to do the same… Persistence, access, news judgment, preparedness, artistic vision, heart. There are just no apps for that.
Everyone can take a photo, and many can take a passable photo, but few can understand photography in all its’ facets, and even fewer can take an excellent photograph. You sir, will never have to worry about the iPhone interfering with your art or your excellence. You sir, you shoot art, and that comes from your judgement, your preparedness, persistence, your artistic vision, and most obviously, your heart.