Thomas Hartwell reflects upon the challenges for professional photographers
Thomas Hartwell says he’s not on the front lines anymore – and he doesn’t want to be. The veteran photojournalist, who has made his 27 year long career in freelancing in Cairo, tells the familiar sad tale of large, networked companies overshadowing the little guy. This time, wide spread news agencies have flooded even the niche magazine markets that freelancers once filled.
“I feel more threatened by the business model coming out for photography than anything else, he said. “Wire services gobbled up so much of the market; it’s hard for an individual to keep up.
And with the dawn of the digital and internet age, the challenges for professional photographers seem unrelenting. Digital cameras, giving people the option to both check and deliver their shot immediately after they’re taken, have created a insatiable desire for a constant flow of pictures from editors. The element of surprise and slower pace of delivery are relics of a bygone era. And the ability to constantly retake and email pictures has made the appeal of professional photographers smaller in editors eyes.
The pressure is so great to just shoot and send a picture.
Even Hartwell himself admits he can see the financial appeal for editors in simply handing their journalists a digital camera, or using wide spread news agency pictures.
“It’s a long way from the way I used to work.Is it ever going to be like it was? Definitely not, Hartwell said.
As for Hartwell himself, he finds it hard to turn his back on past ways. “I’m still in the old mode of look later. I don’t like to stop, it disconnects me from the event.
But there are some aspects of change that Hartwell finds refreshing. “The positive trend is that more and more people are accessing images from non traditional news sources, he said, attributing a lot of photojournalism now to blogs, and even camera phone pictures that are even solicited from major news sources such as the BBC online.
“There’s a budding, do-it-yourself journalism, he said. Despite the relative ease of picture taking, Hartwell also pointed out the very important aspects of accountability that still remain when it comes to photojournalism.
“What you take pictures of determines things just like what a writer chooses to write about, Hartwell explains. Because the impact of photography, no matter what the medium, remains the same.
“I think it’s a fairly proven fact that your retention of information from a visual source is greater than a written, or even a spoken source.