Saturday 14 March 2015

The Rise & Fall of Photojournalism

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

"Only 5% of readers read the entire article but almost all photos get noticed," according to photographer Juha Kivekas (see "It's All About the Images" at

Photojournalism employs images to tell a story.  The photographs are the predominant medium for imparting information.  Roger Fenton is considered the first war photojournalist, capturing images on the battlefield of the Crimean War.  

In the 1870's, John Thomson pioneered the social documentary by photographing haunting images of Victorian London in his book Street Life in London.  His photographs were essentially engravings 

John Thomson's photograph "The Crawlers" courtesy,_The_crawlers.jpg.

In 1880, The Daily Graphic debuted the first halftone photographs.  Seven years later, flash powder was employed, enabling photographers to capture their subjects indoors.  Jacob Riis used this technology in his photographs for How the Other Half Lives.

Photo of children sleeping on Mulberry St., New York City circa 1890 taken by Jacob Riis courtesy  

From 1880 to 1910, French agencies Rol, Branger and Chausseau-Flaviens syndicated photos worldwide.  Yet many photographers still used engravings until as late as 1927.

By 1921, the invention of the wire photo enabled photographers to transmit pictures as quickly as news.

The appearance of the 35 mm camera in 1925 ushered in the Golden Age of Photojournalism.  Flash bulbs gave photographers more flexibility by the late 1920's. 

News magazines debuted the photo essay including Germany's Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, followed by France's Vu, the United States' Life and Look; newspapers followed suit like Britain's Picture Post and Daily Mirror, and New York's Daily News.

Life magazine cover from September 2, 1940 on the occasion of the first communion of the Dionne Quintuplets courtesy

With the photo essay came the official photojournalist.  Henri Cartier Bresson is considered to be the father of modern journalism.  Others followed in his footsteps:  Robert Capa, Romano Cagnom, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Marg Bourke-White and Dorothea Lange.  

Robert Capa, a war photographer, captured pivotal images on Omaha Beach on D-Day.  See my post "Capa's Camera Captures Conflict" at

Dorothy Lange's Migrant Mother photo became the seminal image of the Great Depression.  Read Dorothea Lange:  A Life Beyond Limits (

Dorothea Lange's Depression-era Migrant Mother courtesy 

The magazine that became the "standard by which the public judged photography" debuted in 1936.  Life featured oversize 11 x 14 pages with fine engraving screens, high quality inks and glossy paper.  Its photographers often achieved near-celebrity status.  Alfred Eisenstaedt captured a famous image of a woman and child sitting in a desolate Hiroshima after the atom bomb was dropped in 1945.  For more of Eisenstaedt's work, visit

Alfred Eisenstaedt's surreal image of a woman and child in a desolate Hiroshima after the dropping of the atom bomb circa December 1945 courtesy

With the invention of digital photography. taking and sending photos has become faster and easier than ever before.  Photographers are no longer limited by a roll of film; a single memory card can hold thousands of images.  With the help of a phone or a laptop, a photographer can send a digital image across the continent in seconds.  

The decline of photojournalism came when the magazines could not compete with other media for ad revenue to sustain their high costs.  Read "Lament for a Dying Field:  Photojournalism" at However, the public had received a strong message from the photojournalists:  the power of still images cannot be denied.  

Mother and child in war torn Chechen capital circa 1996 taken by Laurent Van Der Stockt courtesy

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