Exercise – Citizen journalism

“Documentary is a little like horror movies, putting a face on fear
and transforming threat into fantasy, into imagery.  One can handle
imagery by leaving it behind.  One may even, as a private person, support
causes.”  (Martha Rosler: In, Around and Afterthoughts).

Looking for examples of news stories where “citizen journalism” has captured images of disasters and emergencies or exposed and highlighted abuses of power, I chose the following two pairs of images:

Below are two shots of the same “event” but taken from different viewpoints.

A protester is kicked by Yusuf Yerkel (L), advisor to Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, as Special Forces police officers detain him during a protest against Erdogan's visit to Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa May 14, 2014. Four Turkish labour unions called for a national one-day strike on Thursday in protest against the country's worst industrial disaster that killed at least 282 people in a coal mine in western Turkey. Picture taken May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Mehmet Emin Al/Depo Photos (REUTERS - Tags: DISASTER ENERGY POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TURKEY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN TURKEY - RTR3P8X6

image taken by an anonymous third party

Above:  Yusuf Yerkel, advisor to Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, is seen to be kicking a protester as Special Forces police officers detain him. The officer facing the camera has his gun at the ready, is he going to shoot? The detainee is barely visible in this shot so the viewer has nothing to base their judgement on – sex, race, age? The context is unclear, one sees a large white vehicle in the background and a couple of bystanders – one with camera poised. Otherwise the viewer is excluded from the setting and is left wondering what led to this violent act. The viewer could do further research or choose to add their own narrative.



image taken by an anonymous third party

Here one sees a shot taken from a different angle, one that reveals the protester and many onlookers – there appears to be at least one press photographer and/or journalist.  The photographer’s point of view is extremely close to the incident enticing viewers to examine the scene in an attempt to comprehend what is going on. The contrast of the anger on the face of the official versus the passive and unmoved onlookers makes the narrative unclear. There is another man in a suit who may be stepping closer to intervene – to join in or to stop the violence, we will never know. One can only assume that the photographer decided to move on – out of choice or out of danger’s way.

These images were supposedly shot during a protest and strike against Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to Soma, a district in Turkey’s western province.  Turkish Labour unions were protesting against the country’s worst industrial disaster that killed at least 300 people in a coal mine in the area.

I believe these pictures are objective, if only to capture the violence. Of course the images could just as easily be subjective, maybe the photographer was around long enough to feel moved by the injustice, or perhaps thought the action was just. Looking at the images one can only second guess the photographer’s intent.

For me, the abuse here is startling blatant. I have read – albeit the source is not 100% reliable – that the Government official was neither questioned, challenged or charged in connection with the attack. From a political perspective these images could portray a powerful message.


The following two images relate to a subject closer to home, the Cumbria floods as a result of Storm Desmond, December 2015.

Image taken by "a reader" published in Farmers Weekly 28th Dec 2015 edition.

Image taken by “a reader”

This image appears as fine art photography, poetic almost. Beautifully composed, soft tones and it appears to have a calming effect, as water often does. However the image does not portray a true account of the situation on the day it was taken (26th December 2015). Storm Desmond had already destroyed many lives, homes, businesses, farms and livestock, and on this day the rain returned with a vengeance and the raging rivers burst their banks once more merely adding to the destruction.


"I cried for days and days"

“I cried for days and days”

Here one sees a very different picture depicting the same disaster. The contents of flooded homes tipped out into the street. The inclusion of people in this shot provides poignancy. The Christmas tree, reminding us of the time of year when disaster stuck, the sad glances at the ruined piano leaving the viewer in no doubt as to what has happened here. Do images such as these prompt individuals to offer support?  I’m not convinced, we are all different, some will feel compelled to respond and be good Samaritans, others will mutter words of sympathy and feel empathy, but if they are removed from the situation they may prefer to remain that way.

These two images can be objective, but for very different reasons. This is only my opinion, but I feel the first image was purposefully aesthetic, for art – so does that make it objective? The second image – the photographer may (or may not) have asked the subjects to pose, I believe they are posing to add strength to the narrative.

With regard to objectivity in documentary photography, I have to sit on the fence, because it very much depends on what the photographer is attempting to portray in the image; is a clear message being transmitted? Or is it a distorted view? Also is the scene staged and what has been omitted from the frame?  Being objective is being unbiased and fair, not allowing personal feelings into the frame. I believe some images are intended to be objective, however all images are subjective because one does not know the photographer’s intent and the reader sees what they want to see.

Arguments for objectivity:

*The photograph has a connection to the original event.
*Good reference point – some of the originality of the event is there.
*Reader is biased towards the photographers view about what this image portrays.
*Taken on the spur of the moment – no time to stage the scene.
*May cause immediate response when placed on social media/press etc.

Arguments against objectivity:
– Image selected may be one chosen from many.
– Selective framing – key factors may have been omitted.
– Images may have been shot to brief (ie Roy Stryker “Summer”. Dyer 2006, p4).
– Lack of respect for privacy.
– Reader does not agree with or understand the context of the image.

Rosler, M. 1981. ‘In, around, and afterthoughts (on documentary photography)’. The Context of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography.  The MIT Press. Massachusetts
http://www.fwi.co.uk Farmers Weekly Interactive. 28th Dec 2015.
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/ 6th Dec 2015.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27415822. 15th May 2014. Turkish mine disaster. 
https://twitter.com.  15th May 2015
BBC.co.uk. Online news January 2016