April 6, 2015

Iran Portraits in the NY Times; "Kissing Kerry" on the Telly in Social Media

What continues to fascinate, looking at major news stories, is the relationship between professional photojournalism and its barefoot cousin, the public Twitter, Instagram or Facebook picture. For some time, the latter has drawn all kinds of attention for its novelty and peculiarity, not to mention the handwringing from the pros over the potential death blow. Recently though, with the recognition that high quality news and documentary photography, if not alive and kicking, remains alive, compelling and distinguishable, the two forms of imagery are like relatives that show up at all the same parties, not really speaking, but knowing full well that the other is there.

The latest high profile event to bring out these cousins was the U.S.-Iran nuke negotiations and the impact of the West’s economic chokehold on the Iranian man and woman in the street.

When a news event catapults into the spotlight, it’s not unusual that a particular photo story will strike a timely chord and become a touchstone, or the face of the situation at the moment. And “face” is a key word here as both the media and the social media hive mind had visuals that claimed their own limelight last week.  On the “refined” end, there were the much admired portraits of struggling Iranian citizens by Newsha Tavakolian in the NY Times photo feature, Stress and Hope in Tehran.” And, for the populist crowd in the more viral arena, what captured all the buzz was the spectacle of the agreement on domestic TV. (As in, there’s your daily selfie.)

My point here is not to introduce value judgements or even draw comparisons (though I like the behavioral parallel of the guys in the first two photos, and the artful dignity of the woman in the third makes me linger on the woman in the painting in the fourth). My aim, instead, is just to recognize that photojournalism might be moving in a decidedly more crafted and artistic direction, at least in part, to further differentiate from the vital, yet informal and ultimately transitory nature of social media.

— Michael Shaw

(photo 1 & 3: Newsha Tavakolian caption 1: Iranian youths have international mind-sets. From computer gadgets to smartphone applications — we need to pay in dollars but are paid in local money. It’s so hard to keep up. Mohammed 26, Advertising Executive. caption 3: My son lives abroad. Every month I try to send him dollars, which have become three times more expensive. My dream is for all of this to end. SHAHAZ, 58, HOUSEWIFE. photo 2 & 4: Twitter.)

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Michael Shaw
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