Privilege and entitlement

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.