Where Have All The Photographers Gone?

They’ve been laid off.

Last summer’s gutting of the entire photo department at the Chicago Sun-Times sent a shock wave through the industry, and shivers down my spine. As a photojournalist with 3 decades in the business, I struggled to rationalize such a big, stupid decision by supposedly smart people. I heard similar horror stories taking place at other papers, mostly in the U.S., and saw snippets of the bloodletting at some Canadian institutions as well.

Fast forward to the early days of 2014, and another bombshell: more layoffs at The Globe And Mail and The National Post, 2 of the largest papers in the country. And in the case of the Globe And Mail, a stunner: out of 5 full time photographers, 3 have lost their jobs. One of them, Peter Power, is not only a friend, but unquestionably one of the most talented people with a camera in the entire country.

So what the hell is going on?

It’s no secret that times are tough in the newspaper biz. Advertising is in freefall, readers get their news fix in a host of different ways, and papers struggle to figure out how to stem the tide. I get that it can’t be easy. I also get that as revenues dry up, you look for ways to save money. What worries me is that lately, photographers are finding themselves in the cross-hairs. I think I am beginning to see why that is, and it’s disturbing.

Time was, back in the old days (like, the 80′s, when I started), photography was kinda magical. We used ‘film’ back then, ‘developed’ the pictures, and got high on fumes from a myriad of different chemicals in the darkroom. Even for amateur photographers, there seemed to be an understanding that professional photographers possessed a skill set they lacked. And life, as a professional newspaper photographer, was good.

Time and technology have brought those 2 worlds closer and closer together. Digital cameras in 2014 boast image quality I could’ve only dreamed of when I was given my first digital camera in 2000. They shoot stills and video, and are the very definition of point-and-shoot simplicity. But they are not the culprit. Smartphones are.

EVERYONE, it seems, has a smartphone. iPhone, Android, Blackberry – doesn’t matter. Along with all the other brilliant tasks they do, they shoot pictures, and video. Very, very well.

Now, everyone is a photographer. Give ‘em a smartphone, a few apps, and away they go. Go to a sporting event, or a spot news event, or practically anything else, and spot the photographers. It won’t be hard – there will be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them, pointing there phones and capturing it all.

Sometimes this is good. Spot news events are recorded; politicians are held accountable for their actions. The problem is, all these budding photographers have missed one crucial point: the tool in your hand is not what makes you a photographer.

If your smartphone photo is out of focus, or poorly composed, or badly lit, it doesn’t get better just because you shot it on Instagram. It’s just a crappy photo with special effects. The ability to share photos on various social media platforms makes all these pictures readily available to the masses. That still doesn’t necessarily make them good. But if enough people see enough poor pictures enough times, they’ll start to believe. They’ll believe these are good photos, and they’ll believe they can make photos just like that, too.

There is a mindset that these ‘citizen journalists’ can fill the void, that we can somehow eliminate professional photographers and everything will just roll along like it always has. It won’t, of course; quality will suffer, and the readers will be poorer for it. But if our readers have been sufficiently ‘dumbed down’ by the glut of crap passing itself off as good photography on social media every day, will they notice? Or more importantly, will they care?

I hope that there are smart people in positions of authority in newsrooms who see the value of a well lit, in focus, beautifully composed image. Remember, it makes your paper look professional. Just like the professional who took it.





Start spreadin’ the news….

New York, NY

I’ve had a chance to catch my breath.

Last week – because, well, it’s vacation season – I hit the road. Actually, the train tracks – an Amtrak train, from Niagara Falls, NY, all the way to the Big Apple.

That’s right. New York City. With my wife and daughter, the 3 of us headed to the biggest, busiest, wackiest city in our part of the world. My wife, a veteran of 4 trips, acted as tour guide. My daughter and myself were first timers; ‘tourist’ stamped on our foreheads. We spent 2 full days, and parts of 2 others, on an exploration.

Here, as random as my brain functions, are my thoughts on New York.

Traffic. Take a generous helping of cars, add a million or so cabs (all of which are painted exactly the same), throw in some delivery trucks, tour buses, emergency vehicles, and pedestrians, and mix. The result? The most amazing thing ever.

You would have to be insane to drive in New York. Yet many people do. If you do, you better know where you are going, because when the light changes, someone will blow their horn within one nanosecond if you stutter on the gas. Not that it matters, because some vehicle is stranded in the middle of the intersection, since yellow lights and green lights both mean ‘proceed’.  Walkers, most of whom are either looking up (tourist) or down (everyone else) cross pretty much whenever they like. I almost got smoked by a car backing up down a one way street; I looked left, like my momma taught me, but wasn’t anticipating anyone coming the wrong way. Thank God for a warning yell.

Shopping. In a city with millions of people, and millions of tourists, it should come as no surprise that there are millions of places to shop. Of these, the funkiest was Canal St., at the intersection of Chinatown and the Wild West. Apparently, every person on the street sells purses, which they must grow like mushrooms, in the dark below street level somewhere. Tell ‘em what you want, they disappear down some stairs, and, ‘Voila!’ a lovely purse, handsomely wrapped in a plain plastic bag. If purses aren’t your thing, there are sunglasses, perfumes, and assorted trinkets readily available to the discerning shopper. Over and over and over.

If you are one of the fortunate ones whose lottery numbers have come in, you can shop at upscale stores like Tiffany’s. If you haven’t won yet, no worries; it is your right, as a tourist, to wander into places like this. It is also the right of the clerks and security personnel to look down their noses at you, since you are, well, a tourist. Apparently, you have to be psychic to shop here, since there are no prices on anything (which would probably send most tourists screaming for the exits anyway).

Dining. From street meat to Wolfgang Puck, the city is gastronomical delight. On Ninth Ave. alone, there are literally hundreds of restaurants. Small in scale, perhaps a bit large in price, from pubs to Indian to Italian to, well, name it. And here, it helps to have friends who have visited, since they will have done the leg work necessary to find the gems.

Architecture. It’s hard to not look like a nerdy tourist, since the buildings and architecture are so cool. And tall. So, since I am a photographer, and I was surrounded by other nerdy tourists, I happily pointed my camera skyward and snapped away. There’s strength in numbers.

Housing. Even bigger than the Caramilk secret, is how anyone can afford to live in Manhattan. Rent for a 2 bedroom apartment? Try $3500 a month. A cruise through local listings shows nothing under $2000/month, with most units (which are about the size of an SUV) going for hundreds, or thousands, of dollars more. Who can afford this? Seriously?

Yet somehow, it all works. Every day a busy mass of humanity moves through their days, interacting on many levels. Each morning, the controlled chaos started well before we hit the streets, and continued long after we had retired to our hotel. In our short time, we barely scratched the surface.

It is unique.

It is New York.

Happy Day, Father

Today is the day when fathers jump to the front of the queue. As a kid growing up, I saw my father as a pretty neat guy. Not cool, mind you; like, say, Chuck Norris (how cool would it be to have Chuck Norris as your dad?) but pretty awesome through my young eyes. He was Mr. Fixit, which, when you live on a farm, kinda comes with the territory. He was the sole breadwinner, working a job full time in addition to working the land. He was a WWII vet, spending the better part of 2 years bobbing around the North Atlantic hunting German U-boats. He had a great sense of humour – I can still hear him belly laughing at the antics of Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner while I sat and watched cartoons. He was a sports nut; be it Hockey Night in Canada, or the local softball team, he watched. He was a maestro with a barbeque, when charcoal was not only king, but the only game in town. And, as a peculiar quirk, he was fascinated by the weather. Along with catching the forecast on the news, he (like most farmers) was adept at ‘knowing’ the weather. I can picture him standing outside, analyzing clouds, listening to the trees, or the birds, or the bugs, and accurately predict a change in conditions.

He passed away many years ago, at age 75. There was much life to live, for him – family milestones to be celebrated; grandkids he never really got to know. Does it ever all work out just the way we want it?

To all the dads out there, take a bow. You’ve earned it. Enjoy your day.

Handsome young dude, wasn’t he?


A Life Story

In springtime, a robin’s thoughts turn to, well, making more robins. This year, my house seemed to be the preferred place for procreation. I convinced a busy female that, no, the wreath on my front door was NOT the best place for her nest. But the outdoor speaker at the back of the house was an OK spot. And whether it was wreath mom, or a different bird, I soon had a nest there. Being a photographer, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. I built a small box, painted it dark green, cut a hole in the bottom, and made a quick access panel for the side. Inside went my GoPro camera, a small video device perfect for a job such as this.

I recorded video every day at first, in 2 hour blocks. As the babies grew, I recorded their growth at greater intervals. Mom, dad, the babies and me seemed to work well together – or, at least they tolerated me long enough to get the camera in and out of the box without too much fuss. I would show them the end result, but they have since moved on with their lives.

The nest remains. Hopefully, next spring, another robin chooses this spot to make a family. I can’t promise she’ll be a star in her own video – but it is a cool spot to raise a family, just the same.


On Your Mark, Get Set…

Everyone, it seems, has a blog these days. And since I want to express my individuality by doing what everyone else is doing, I’ve created one too. This is it. It will be deeply profound, change the world type stuff. Or not. Actually, it will probably be like most blogs – random thoughts about the world in which we all live; pictures or videos I like. I hope it makes you stop and think. Or smile. Or laugh. Life is complex and fascinating, and sometimes, I can’t let it pass without comment. Welcome.