The social landscape continues to change and complicate. Photography becomes more involved now than ever as it takes an active role in society. We study the role of photography and the photographer in being part of the human story.
Storytelling in photography has existed since the early 20th century. Documentary photographs from long ago have allowed humans of now to witness and understand stories, in such a way not even words and literature can give. Think of Eddie Adams' photograph of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan with his gun pointed at a Viet Cong; Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother"; Kevin Carter's 1993 photograph of the starving child. Photographs remain successful in telling what words cannot say -- emotions and gravitas.
And so, the photographer becomes a storyteller.
Visual storytelling in the 21st century
This acquired role of the photographer -- particularly street, documentary photographers, and photojournalists -- has become an inherited responsibility. TIME Magazine also admits how photography is shaping socio-political aspects of the society, most recent example the U.S. Presidential Elections, saying how photographs have changed, swayed opinions and moved people for the better or for worse. To be able to capture images beautifully is not enough. The photographer must learn to be in touch with his humanity.
In the exact words of Chelsea Matiash from TIME, "It’s time to abandon the tropes that have been so damaging to our society and get to work telling stories that inform and help people make the best decisions they can possibly make. It is incumbent on us to understand each other for who we really are, what we care about, what are our real problems, hopes, and needs."
But this is not to say that the photographer must go for the grand. Large-scale does not always mean superior. If photographs can shape events like a national election, then without a doubt it can move individuals, lives even. There is no story too big or small. A mere street photograph taken at a skid row may already echo several stories and ideas.
The photographer as a guardian of history
To take such task as a person who takes photographs to tell stories seems to be quite heavy. But society has relied on photography since its creation to tell the stories. Stories that some audiences couldn't witness. Even now, we continue to look back at history with images whenever we make decisions for the future. Photographers might as well embrace the role of being a guardian of history.
Writer Paul Choy expressed how photographers are one of the crucial keepers of history over Fstoppers:
"It would, of course, be inaccurate to claim photographers are the sole guardians of history. Writers, painters, sculptures, and all the other artists of the world are equally contributing to the legacy we will offer those who follow. But in order to play our part, we must take photographs that reflect the world as we know it and present them in a way future generations can view. Because, who knows, the work we produce today may prove to be the missing link in the knowledge of our decedents as they strive to understand the world we currently take for granted."
Photojournalists, street and documentary photographers must always remember that their role as men and women with cameras are no simple or trivial passions and professions.
You are part of this narrative.
What's your opinion of the photographer -- particularly the photojournalist, documentary and street photographer -- as a visual storyteller/ What responsibilities should they take? Begin a conversation and share it through the comments section.