Perhaps the best photojournalism fuses information and expression, document and symbol, in such a way as to create a metaphor: an image that retains the particularity of its referent but, at the same time, stands for a broader truth which transcends that immediate context.

In his article Sebasti o Salgado: Ways of Seeing Latin America, Mraz elaborates on how a photographer’s connection with the subject, use of captions, metaphors, symbols and personal involvement influences the overall perception of documentary photography. Through comparing the early and later work, Mraz shows how Salgado develops from creating distant photographs with a strong emphasis on metaphors and iconographic displays to images that are part of a context, with individuals in a specific context during a highly selected fraction of a second. 

What strikes me in the article is how Mraz shows how Salgado develops from a photographer who creates work that represents the Latin America how the Western world likes to see it, with an estrangement that Salgado must have felt when he returned to his homeland after having been abroad for a long time, to an engaged photographer that clearly addresses the conditions and lives of the people he photographs.

“In this way, he could sell to the developed world the estrangement it knows so well, but with the interesting touch of dressing it in exotic clothing and setting it against picturesque backdrops… the alienation of individuals who embody an ‘Orientalist’ otherness is evidently a horse of a decidedly different colour.”

Traditional photojournalism is more concerned with information; its images are documents which are predominantly limited to presenting particular situations. As such, they often lack the expressivity to transform themselves into statements which transcend the individual case. Conversely, fine are photojournalism such as Salgado’s leans more toward the expressive pole, and its images are often symbols that can fail to adequately present the particularity of specific situations, because they lack the information with which it could be constructed. Though conscious of the risks of such gross generalizations, we might say that, in general, fine art photojournalists make photos that tell us more about the photographers than the photographed, while the images of traditional photojournalists tell us more about what they are photographing than about those who have taken them.”

Mraz, J. (2002) ‘Sebastião Salgado: Ways of seeing Latin America’, Third Text, 16(1), pp. 15–30. doi: 10.1080/09528820110120687.

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