Ben talks about some things that I experienced on a smaller scale in 2007 when I had to cover a drunk driving accident. It made me change the way I think about photojournalism. and the way I make photographs. Nice words Ben.
Journalists and spectators
Aurora, CO 2012
In July, I covered the Aurora theater shooting. I started out photographing the aftermath, but as the first day progressed, the atmosphere quickly changed from one of anger and mourning to a media feeding frenzy. And so I photographed the media.
To be honest, I am not much a photojournalist, and especially not in a time of tragedy. I am not comfortable invading the space of grieving strangers to try and capture moments. I realize why this is done and the value for the decimation of information that underpin these actions. But I also think that we have a responsibility to the people we photograph to be sensitive to them and their experiences. You can’t make dignified photographs when you are not treating your subjects with dignity.
What was quickly evident is that the second that this became a major media event, the actual story ceased to matter. The event went from a tragic news story to a dramatic performance. The TV personalities, photographers and video crews raced in to speak in front of the same buildings, photograph the same scenes and interview the same people. And with them came the individuals who saw the aftermath as an opportunity to get in the spotlight. There was the man who spent three hours putting up and taking down the same small white crosses for the victims, restarting every time a new video crew would arrive. And the couple who stood holding an large American flag in the middle of a vigil, waiting until every photographer had made their picture and every news organization had interviewed them.
It was an experience that made me feel ashamed to be a member of the media.
There are people who did an amazing job covering the aftermath, including Tristan Spinski, Matt Nager, and the crew at the Denver Post. Journalism can definitely be respectful and responsible. But it can also be a machine that chews up people, truth and tragedy in order to spit out a product that will please viewers.