Week 4 Activity: The Filters of Citizen Journalism

This week's activity required us to read two articles about citizen journalism, combat photography and smartphone images and to write a short argument about what questions and challenges us. The two articles:

Damon Winter's article about his series 'A Grunt’s Life' on Poynter.org, http://www.poynter.org/2011/damon-winter-explains-process-philosophy-behind-award-winning-hipstamatic-photos/119117/

Stephen Bull ‘Digital Photography never looked so Analogue’ in Photoworks (Spring/Summer 2012) http://frameandreference.com/digital-photography-never-looked-so-analogue-retro-camera-apps-nostalgia-and-the-hauntological-photograph/

‘What You See Is Not Really What You Get...’

According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, photography is defined as:

  • “the art, process, or job of taking pictures with a camera,” AND“the art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface (as film or an optical sensor).”

And according to the online Cambridge Dictionary, photography is defined as:

  • “the activity or job of taking photographs or filming”

It is worth nothing that Merriam-Webster is an American-English based dictionary while Cambridge is British-English based. If we were to select either dictionary’s definition, then the agreement of what is photography, becomes very broad and with little bearing on what image making device one uses to capture photographs. Nor would ‘the art or process’ matter much, because what constitutes art or process is relative to each individual, each story and its photograph, and what the art or process is trying to depict.

And then there is photojournalism and under it, citizen journalism

David Winter, a New York Times photographer, captured a series of images featuring the daily lives of combat soldiers on mission. Winter’s images of ‘A Grunt’s Life’ created controversy among photojournalists and experts in the field, after he won 3rd place in the Pictures of the Year International Contest. Winter did not use a traditional camera for the photographs but instead opted to use his smart phone and the second most popular mobile photo application at the time (after Instagram) Hipstamatic.

Some viewed his use of the application which predetermined the aesthetics of Winter’s mobile images, as beneath the ethics of photojournalism. It brought into question not only the ethics of photojournalism, but also the challenges of maintaining those ethics in the modern day world of technology. Photojournalism is basically defined as the news or facts in photos, it is, a what you see is what you get, an un-staged, objective photo narrative of its subject. Where the definition gets muddy is in its own definition, lies that concept of the photographic image being objective.

From the beginning of photography until, no two photographers had the exact DNA and no two images of a shared subject’s moment were exactly alike. And although in today’s world with the mass use of smart phones and shared mobile photo apps like Instagram, images are alike but are still not the same though homogeneousness can make it seem this way, they remain different in the eyes of the beholder. I think Winter’s images were appropriate to its story, in my opinion, the first image was the most striking in the series. The heavy vignette simulated the feeling of being in a combat situation, perhaps right behind the soldiers or observing from binoculars. Winter selected to tell his story in the most objective- subjective narrative, he thought suited it best. Whether he edited the photos using an automated editing system, had no bearing on the authenticity of the photos’ content moments. They remained essentially real, free of relative falsification. At the end of the day, all photographers from the amateurs to the professionals, capture images to tell, show, inform, document, celebrate, defame, scrutinise, objectify, prosecute or to preserve a cherish moment in its subject’s existence.

Never can we truly capture any image in its objective state. Perceptions and human biology can suggest but not objectively claim what an image is truly like even if that image is taken by a robot. The visual still image is not a moving image. It does not give us additional information other than what is in its frame. There is no rewind or fast forward, and here lies the strength and weakness in documenting events in photojournalism, regardless of its aesthetics - It will always be left open to a collective objective-subjective selective interpretation of the photographer.


MYERS, Steve. 2011. Damon Winter explains process, philosophy behind award-winning Hipstamatic photos. Poynter. [online] Available at: http://www.poynter.org/2011/damon-winter-explains-process-philosophy-behind-award-winning-hipstamatic-photos/119117/[accessed on 12/10/2016] MYERS, Steve. 2011.

Chat replay: What role do image apps like Hipstamatic have in photojournalism?. Poynter. [online] Available at: http://www.poynter.org/2011/live-chat-friday-what-role-do-image-apps-like-hipstamatic-have-in-photojournalism/118898/[accessed on 12/10/2016]

Pictures of the Year International [online] Available at: http://www.poyi.org/68/17/third_01.php [accessed on 12/10/2016] Frame and Reference. 2012.

‘Digital Photography never looked so Analogue’: Retro Camera Apps, Nostalgia and the Hauntological Photograph. Frame and Reference. Available at: http://frameandreference.com/digital-photography-never-looked-so-analogue-retro-camera-apps-nostalgia-and-the-hauntological-photograph/[accessed on 12/10/2016]

SONTAG, Susan. 1977. On Photography. United States: Farrar, Strarus and Giroux

AZOULAY, Ariella. 2008. The Civil Contract of Photography. United States: Zone Books


Recent Posts