Responses to Jon Levy talking about intent in photojournalism
I realise now from re-checking the course reading list that I should have already heard of FOTO8 and Jon Levy, but I would be lying. I listened to the interview before I looked more into his background and to a certain extent this did affect my understanding of what he has to say. Since then I have looked at the Foto8 website and was very pleasantly surprised to find that all the magazine back issues are available to download.
There are a couple of times in the piece where he is almost disparaging about ‘art’ photography in general. He dislikes art photography that tries to adopt photojournalism as a guise after the fact. Although he admits that any judgement is unquantifiable, he is very wary of the photographer’s initial intentions. Has he/she set out to tell a story? Or are they retrofitting a story that is not really there? He does not want to be too prescriptive about what photojournalism is, and welcomes photographers who do not have too many preconceptions about form. There does seem to be a slight tension between these two positions; one of the guiding principles I have come to realise over the duration of my time with OCA is that one cannot be too rigid in the structure of a project up front. Work evolves and results may well be different to the original intention.
He remarks that a defining characteristic of good photojournalism is how it works, not what it looks like. Again it seems to me this is at odds with his earlier remark about disliking retrofitted concepts of photojournalism.
Later on he mentions the idea that photojournalism does not have to be big, visceral pieces. Smaller, less obviously dramatic pieces can work just as well as images of major world events. He is suspicious of the term ‘vernacular’ when applied to photojournalism, as he regards this as a term that the art world has overlaid across areas of photojournalism. As noted above, he regards aspects of the art world as overly pretentious and much prefers to ‘keep it real’.
Although he does at times seem to adopt slightly contradictory positions, his main concern about integrity holds throughout. He is keen that photojournalism adopts a wider perspective, not just a western view of the world, but in all cases that the work tells a story.
In terms of what has been covered so far in this course, nothing in what he has to say (or indeed from works shown at FOTO8) are particularly prescriptive about objectivity or the decisive moment. Jon Levy’s view of photojournalism is that subjective may well make for a more interesting story, as long as the photographer’s position is clear and honest.