Privilege and entitlement

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Being a photojournalist is a tremendous privilege. People expect, and sometimes even want, you to look at them. Journalism is essential for a functioning democracy, and journalists are empowered by this need. As a photojournalist, you are sanctioned by society and protected by law to do your job.

Working the other night, someone said to me:

“Thank you for coming. You are a great chronicler. Sometimes we take advantage of your presence, but we’re glad you’re here.”

It was funny, because I always feel like I’m intruding when I photograph people. I feel like I’m taking their time, interrupting their life, interjecting. I forget that while this process is normal for me, for a lot of people it will be their only interaction with a journalist. These days, everyone is photographed everywhere they go. If I photograph a stranger, however, it may be the only time in their life that someone has really looked at them. I am a professional.

Being a professional has some big responsibilities. You have to get it right. You have to really look. If someone makes themselves available to you, you have to do your job right. You have to be serious and act like a professional; show up on time, be respectful, be truthful and honest, and take your job and yourself seriously.

Its pretty simple.

I am troubled by the sense of entitlement I see. You, who show up late, talk over others, back talk, do drugs, turn in lazy sub-par performances, and cheat, well, I wonder what the hell you’re doing in this profession. If you’re not going to try, why are you here?  Photojournalism is an entrepreneurial profession. There’s no room for floaters.

Half-baked photojournalists ruin it for us who do try. You give us all a bad name. You really are wasting people’s time. If you’re not in it, you might as well get out.

There are exceptions, of course, and these people give me hope for the future. They are, uniformly, people who have fought hard to be here and who have people backing them. They are responsible. They care about their work, and the people they photograph. They have chosen projects that reflect a deep caring for the world, and an interest in the well-being of other people. I am honoured to know you, and privileged to see your projects.

Originally posted at Being There by Jackson Couse.

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Jackson Couse is a Canadian documentary photographer in New York City.

5 thoughts on “Privilege and entitlement”

  1. I don’t know why freedom of speech is so prominent in this country. I think it gives people too much pride to talk, especially to talk shit.

    I don’t agree with you accusing the “cheating one”, the one who does drug and so forth. A work has to be done well and either a professional or a student has the right to learn from his mistakes. If you refer to a friend of ours, who cheated for an assignment and got busted, then let it be, he wears the shame of a learning experience, but shame is humbleness.
    I feel shame and fear when i photograph people, it is not a privilege. I don’t need to be thanked for the work i do. i would feel privileged to work wood, make nice furniture, carve a noble material and know that there is something tangible as a very result of the time i spend in a workshop: no “thanks”, no “great chronicler”, just a sweet round ass sitting on a nice chair of mine. the privilege and entitlement should be humbleness.

    by referring to the drug user, the cheating one, the one who arrives late, the one who talks over others, you are just judging you own profession and cowardly back-talking them.

    shame on you.

    • I accuse nothing. I expect the best of my peers, and from myself. I do so so that we may hold each other to account. Is it not an important part of our job to hold each other to account?

      I did not say shame, and shame was not my intention. Mistakes are inevitable, learning from them is not. I said what I did because I felt, at the time, as I do now, that an opportunity to learn an important lesson was being missed. Shaming is something bullies do.

      As for gossip, I have talked to the people in question (notice that I do not refer to anyone by name) and settled my accounts with them. If anyone has a problem with me, I expect them to be adults and talk to me. I’ll talk to anyone.

      There is an important difference between having an opinion and talking shit. I wrote what I did to start this conversation.

      Jackson

  2. contacuento says:

    well indeed you did not mention shame, I did. and yes you are accusing. accusing your own peers, you cannot deny it, anyone who reads your post feels that your are not friendly to the “half-baked journalists”.
    you cannot expect the best from photographers, we are just a bunch of wannabe explorers that think we really care about our subject. we believe we have conscience. that is our sin, that is where we miss humility (sorry for the vocabulary mistake between non-existing ‘humbleness’ and humility).

    you started by talking privilege and saying journalists are protected by law. I believe there ain’t no privilege, neither journalists are (or should be) protected by anything. exposing and being exposed is what journalists do. it is not a privilege. it is not necessary for democracy.

  3. Madeleine says:

    But I want to be the sentinel of democracy AND party.

    Ugh it’s not fair, artists have all the fun.

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