Kevin G. Barnhurst: Photography as Culture Reconsidering the History of Photojournalism

Einleitung: Uncertainly about the future has inf luenced the writing – or lack of writing – about photojournalism history. When Life and other picture magazines closed, the future of photojournalism seemed in doubt in the early 1970s (Schuneman, 1972). These fears largely dissipated by the 1980s. Life had reappeared, USA Today placed visual concerns at the center of journalism, and the image of tlie photojournalism such as the character Animal in the television series Lou Grant, seemed firmly established in the popular imagination. By the end of the decade, photojournalism courses were being taught at 83 percent of the schools of journalism and mass communication in one survey (Heller 1991), but the field faced other challenges. Editors predicted that charts and graphs would soon overtake pictures in newspapers (Terrell 1989). Digital picture editing and video still cameras seem to threaten the ethics and even the survival of the profession once defined in the character Jimmy Olsen in Superman.

Despite (or perhaps because of) these uncertainties, photojournalism history has received increased attention in the past several years. After curating an exhibition at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y., Marianne Fulton edited a survey history of photojournalism for the George Eastman House in 1988. Time magazine issued a special edition, “One- Hundred Fifty Years of Photojournalism,” in 1989. Another history, written by Richard Lacayo and George Russell, both editors at Time, appeared in 1990. These publications arrived almost forty years after Wilson Hicks (1952) wrote his seminal essay and more than two decades after John Szarkowski (1973) organized From the Picture Press for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The time is ripe for a reassessment of the history of photojournalism. The continuing uncertainty about the field and the increased attention it receives present an opportunity to rethink the ways photography contributes to the promotion of journalism in popular culture (Schwartz 1992). The nexus of photography and journalism illustrates the tension between aesthetic art and imagery as politics. Photojournalism history, regardless of the future of practice, can provide insight into the larger issues of pictures in culture. This essay will begin with an evaluation of the role of pictures in culture before proceeding to an examination of the origins of photography and f inally to a reassessment of the particular set of ideas and practices commonly referred to as photojournalism. …