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10 December 2013

An unbiased media - a photographer's perspective

I have long been interested in photography and politics, in particular as it relates to American politics.  It's a badly kept secret that I'd have given my right arm to become a White House Photographer, in particular, to be able to photograph the President of the United States.  The images taken by my photographic idol Jacques Lowes are, I believe, amongst the finest images ever taken of any one person or political era.

Even though I've scaled back my own use of social media forums like Facebook (for example I no longer have it on my iPhone or iPad for months now and no longer 'check in' to place with people), one of the things I do like about social media is that it allows us to be more connected with the events that are going on in the world. We hear about things sooner, and issues that are happening on the other side of the world are available to us at the same time as they are if you were living in the country that it's happening in.

One of the Facebook pages I follow, given my strong interest, is the "White House News Photographers Association" page (see this link). I still tend to flick through my emails, and my Facebook feed from my computer after I get up, so that I stay on top of what's happening. So as is my habit, before my kids woke up and I started the usual regime of getting us all out of the house, at 6.30am this morning I came across this article, of which I quote the final few paragraphs written by former White House Photo Editor Mike Davis: Time Magazine: "Why Photographers need more access in the White House".
"I asked everyone I talked to: What does all this matter? Why is it important that photos of a president come from more than one primary, government-funded source?

The media’s letter to Carney cites the First Amendment’s protection of “the public and the press from abridgment of their rights of access to information about the operation of their government.” That’s a highfalutin way of saying that we deserve an unbiased, unfiltered photographic impression of our President’s term.

As Diana Walker put it: “I thought it was important to show the smallest detail. My theory was that I was there for the people who read TIME magazine.”

White House Photo Office photos remain largely inaccessible for decades after an administration leaves office. The photos are technically public, under the auspices of the National Archive, but they are tightly controlled by descendants of the administration.

For now, we’re largely limited to seeing a flow of pictures from the White House to social media. In the future, if we are to see the life of the White House beyond the antiseptic version, it has to come from the media." Mike Davis. Former White House Photo Editor, on "The Back Story".
It's well written, by a person who actually knows what they are talking about. But more importantly, he's not just speaking from a photographer's point of view. We photographers understand that access is important. If you can't get in the building, it's more difficult to obtain an image. We complain that it's not fair to preclude some of us from access because this prevents us proving we can take an image that is just as superb (or better we always like to hope!) as the photographer standing next to us can do. Particularly if we sneak or sidle away from the pack, and obtain a different angle/perspective.

Photographers are competitive. We can't help it. We like to believe that our images are the best, and that if we weren't there we could have produced a worthwhile image. And we become frustrated at missing things. Having said that, mostly we are a close knit bunch. We speak the same language. We understand each other, and there are bonds that run very deep.

This is another link from the White House News Photographers Association on the same issue - White House Criticized over Press Access. I think it's an excellent interview, as Charles Dharapak and Brooks Kraft explain why the limited access of White House photographers matters. If we want our press and media to be unbiased, if we want true freedom of the press, then more photographers need access.

Peter Souza is clearly a talented and experienced photographer. However I question anyone who says he is the only photographer can produce that quality of image. Souza would have to push himself harder to produce great images that differentiate himself if he was working in direct competition with other equally talented and ambitious photographers. And surely this is a good thing!!! Because what is the end result? It's compelling imagery that makes the viewer sit back, and stare, and wonder... Competition from your peers challenges you, it encourages try harder to produce, it makes you set yourself in determination to produce images that show a different but equally worthwhile perspective.

Draw your own conclusions, but like the video interview demonstrates, great images should be more than "visual press releases".  And yes, you can probably feel it within me, but debates like this, and pondering access to such an important visual spectacular makes me feel like pacing the room again, and makes my whole body burn with the blinding ambition.  I realise that dreams or goals of working with the White House Press Corps are probably largely unobtainable for an Australian photographer like me who is also busy bringing up 2 young children.  But it doesn't stop the ambition and desire  burning brightly and fiercely within me for a moment, until I am once again able to force it back down to a place where it just simmers and bubbles again...

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