At a time when every event around the world can be reflected infinitely in photos, videos and stories about Instagram, the work of the photojournalist must constantly reaffirm its legitimacy.

The abundance of images on Instagram could appear to be a threat to the value of the photographs reported by photojournalists, but in fact it is the reverse that occurs. Instagram has increased the importance of photography in the everyday life of its users, who are now even more receptive to photojournalistic language. For example, the difference between the Obama photo on a diplomatic visit posted by an amateur on the networks and that taken by the photojournalist accredited for the event is not only in the quality of the image or the strategic location. The difference also lies in respecting a combination of professional criteria. Whether it be ethics, technical precision or fidelity to the real, the photojournalist must face a number of constraints that have the merit of producing a quality visual result.

Attract the eye of the public while remaining faithful to the real

Only then, the multiplicity of images that continue to swarm on our smartphones entails some retinal wear and tear that the photojournalist must break to carry the information. So, to hit the eye of the readers the photo must be prominent. Each photojournalist must then find his way to balance between the factual evidence, raw, and the search for a visual effect, from a point of view to make sound its image.

This is all the more true today as many people are sensitized to the aesthetic aspect of photographic work. The popularity of visual language is increasing day by day and necessarily leads to contagious tendencies. The boundary between the photo of information and the photo with artistic vocation is becoming more and more refined.

The beautiful in misery, the beautiful that disturbs

The status of works of art of certain images taken by photojournalists has long aroused the debates and still continues to agitate some. Above all the notions of artistic genre, purchase prices and exhibition sites, the photojournalist necessarily maintains an ambiguous relationship with the search for the beautiful, which in some cases can appear to be extremely disturbing.


Boys feeling from southern Sudan, 1993. #sebastiaosalgado

Une publication partagée par Sebastiao Salgado Photographs (@sebastiao_salgado_photographs) le


This was the case for the “Jimmy Hendrix of photojournalism”, Sebastião Salgado (above), whose photos have been controversial for a long time, notably on the thorny subject of the “beautiful of misery”. A picture of hungry children about to die will never be described as “beautiful” without controversy. However, the debate about such images can be effective in bringing the subject of poverty in Africa to the heart of the discussions. Jean-François Leroy, director and founder of Visa pour l’image, told an interview in the World:

“For me, a good photojournalist, when I look at his work, I think of the people on it. When I look at a photo of a kid in Darfur, if the photographer is good, I feel compassion for the kid. If at some point I think, ‘Oh, what a great picture!’, I feel very embarrassed and for me the photographer missed his mission. “

The nuance between a picture that gives rise to compassion and one that arouses contemplation is not simple. And the difficulty increases with the gravity of the subjects treated. The more dramatic the situation is, the more crucial the need to communicate information with a vibrant picture. Adrenaline also fueled by peer recognition that is materialized by the many awards and rewards within the profession.

The race for photojournalistic prices

Dimitris Messinis, Greek photojournalist and former director of the photography department of the American agency Associated Press, told us that for him “the priority is to show what happens and not to invent the reality”: “Above all do not take The risk of hiding information to highlight aesthetics, otherwise you have lost everything. ” He also adds that “the trend has progressed towards more work of aesthetic composition” without it being a bad thing. For him visual sensitivity is not to be excluded from the field work, but he repeats that the priority is the info.

A priority that is threatened, according to him, by “the price race” which pushes the aesthetic emphasis to the detriment of the discourse informative. However, what some see as lyrical emphasis and visual exaltation is sometimes only the result of a difference in sensibility. The work of the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, mentioned above, is charged with aesthetic effects (grain, contrast, framing), but are also the simple reflection of the singular perception of their author.

The impossible objectivity?

The photojournalist testifies, he shows what he sees. But what he sees is already equipped with a filter: “I am not a press worker. I can not pretend to be objective,” says Stefania Mizara, independent photoreporter, one of the first journalists to Entering the Gaza Strip in 2008. She explains that it is her personal feel that guides the shooting and that she can not make this impression disappear:

“Positioning myself in relation to an event is inevitable because it is part of the choreography of the work, and only the choice of the framework is a position on the subject, if I am impressed by the fact that it There will be more young people or elderly people in a demonstration, I will choose to show this cleavage. “

Fidelity to the real is not necessarily easy on the field, despite all the inclinations of objectivity of the photographers. Individual perception and temptations of composition put a strain on the ideal of images of pure information. But it is undoubtedly the field that regulates the place of aesthetic research: “When you are under the bombs, I do not think you have time to make romanticism,” summarizes Jean-Francois Leroy to his interlocutor of the World .

For its part, the Belgian photojournalist Maxime Gyselinck also talks about this modulation of aesthetic research according to the event he covers. For him, reporting to refugees or urban revolts are more conducive to composition work. He explains that “in demonstration, you have the time to build your image, think of your framing, your light …”, while the field missions where the danger is more present prevail the instantaneity on The aesthetic.

The photojournalist does not testify to what is happening before his eyes, but to what he sees happening. It therefore provides a vision, his own, distinct from one photographer to another. Some will choose to assume their point of view and others choose to erase it as much as possible. Covering a subject by offering photos that will mark public opinion without switching to a form of aesthetics of reality is a real challenge. In this sense, the subtle balance between the ideal of objectivity and the aesthetic ideal is one of the professional skills that distinguishes the amateur photojournalist armed with his Smartphone.