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When the line blurs between photography and photojournalism

By dpreview staff on Apr 19, 2013 at 23:19 GMT

British sports photographer Tom Jenkins has written a thought-provoking article for The Guardian about how quickly sports stories can turn into breaking news events. In the aftermath of the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon, Jenkins draws parallels with past tragedies including the Hillsborough disaster, which occurred on the same day 24 years earlier.

Jenkins quotes photographer John Tlumacki, who was covering the marathon for the Boston Globe: 'I was covering the finish line at ground level at the marathon. Everything was going on as usual. It was jovial – people were happy, clapping – and getting to a point where it gets a little boring as a photographer. And then we heard this explosion'. Tlumaki carried on shooting, explaining 'my instinct was: no matter what it is, you're a photographer first; that's what you are doing'.  

Police react to the second explosion, near the finish line of this year's Boston Marathon. Photographer John Tlumaki, working for the Boston Globe, found himself going from covering a sporting event to a terrorist atrocity in seconds. 

Photograph: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe/AP 

Wondering how he would react in the same situation, Jenkins explains his usual mindset when setting out for work: 'just as a war or news photographer should be mentally attuned to what they are likely to see, I am similarly prepared. I am certainly not ready for bombs and violence to erupt in the arenas where I work. I don't go to work in a bulletproof vest and helmet, I go with a fishing stool and a 500m lens'.

But although most of his work is safe and predictable, Jenkins has been thrust into the middle of breaking news events, remembering how 'in 1996 I was called away from snooker at Wembley to get to the IRA Canary Wharf bombing [and] in Marseille at the World Cup of 1998, I found myself, regrettably without an anti-teargas mask, in the middle of a full-scale riot between French police, local Tunisians and visiting England fans'.

Tom Jenkins was in Marseille in 1998 for the soccer world cup, when rioting broke out between
fans and police, and found himself covering an entirely different story - in a different
environment - than he was expecting.

Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

Jenkins also remembered 'on the day Princess Diana died, my football match was cancelled and I was sent down to Harrods to see people laying flowers, where I was spat at and blamed for her death: possession of a large pro camera marked me down as "paparazzi scum"'.

Asking himself how he would have reacted if he had been at the Boston marathon Jenkins says 'I feel it's a fine dividing line, achieving a delicate balance between helping someone in need but also recording the situation without exploiting it. Under extreme pressure that sort of call is very hard to make. I sincerely hope I never have to.'

At the time of writing, a manhunt for the perpetrators of the Boston bombings is still underway, and US security forces have been pouring over thousands of photographs and videos taken by photographers at the event - both professional and amateur. One of our own contributors, Lauren Crabbe, was among them. You can read about her experiences that day here.


Total comments: 34
By lds2k (11 months ago)

Hummm. I can see that on its face this is a difficult question. When is altering an image too much? Before I answer let me say that as a reader of the event I want to see it as if I were there in person. That means I want an honest portrayal of the event. I expect color, contrast and improved dynamic range etc to take place before I see it. What makes the RAW image the proper representation of the event? Don't add "pixels" but please enhance what you capture to help me understand what really happened. Also remember, the image is not shown in a vacuum. It is usually is accompanied by a story

By tjbates (Apr 21, 2013)

I don't quite understand this article. Sports photography for any multimedia outlet is photojournalism.

Central Fla
By Central Fla (Apr 21, 2013)

There was video of a photographer lending a hand, not sure where but it was broadcast. His camera was around his shoulder while he was pulling on the fencing.

By Riquez (Apr 21, 2013)

The grey line is indeed thought provoking. On one side, in a disaster where people need help - you help. fk photos, people are dying.
On the other side, are you able to help?, would you just get in the way of people already helping?. You are better equipped to document, which is also important.

Wildlife documentaries raise an interesting question too - we mostly accept that those photographers dont intervene when the animal is in trouble. But if it was a human child, would they? Yes, of course. So its 'ok' to film an animal struggling to its death, but not a human. Sometimes i wonder how human that makes us?

By JaFO (Apr 22, 2013)

It's simple.
We like to pretend to care as that is cheaper and more convenient than actually doing something constructive.

And if the incident happens in a country that doesn't deal with crap like this on a daily basis we can even pretend to feel offended.

Seriously. If a marathon in Iraq had been the target we wouldn't have seen it in the news at all.
How easy it is for us to forget that in other countries civilians get killed on a daily basis.

Comment edited 32 seconds after posting
1 upvote
By absentaneous (Apr 21, 2013)

let me try to understand this: if you are taking pictures of a sport event in which everything goes according to how it was supposed to go you are a sport photographer. but as soon as something doesn't go according to how it was supposed to go you become a photojournalist? well, that's a stupid logic on the kind of same stupidity level as saying if you are using a a dslr camera or a compact camera or any other kind of camera you are a photographer. but if you use a phone you are a mobile photographer.

as far as the question of taking pictures or helping goes it of course depends on the circumstances. if there are 100 policemen on the spot then I don't think one can really help much but in the situation when no one is around to help then of course taking a picture instead of helping should be considered a crime.

Deleted pending purge
By Deleted pending purge (Apr 20, 2013)

With disasters, it is good to be helper and the photographer. People, especially those shocked by such an event would appreciate someone doing both. Also, it helps a lot if you're having some official Photographer ID very visibly displayed.
I was once covering a serious flooding, and a lot of people and property was endangered, many houses and other property destroyed. I was actually attacked for taking pictures, and my ID and a few calming words saved me from imminent trouble. People nerves are highly strung and seeing someone recording the life-endangering events calmly can (quite understandably) create instant enmity. I remember saying something like "I'd rather photograph a wedding, but this is my job and I have to do it". Since I had my credentials checked by the police, and was also seen helping people to reach dry land by boats, the situation was much better, and there was no more interference.
Photographers are human(e), but it pays when they make sure to show both aspects.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
By GeorgeD200 (Apr 20, 2013)

He was a photojournalist, on assignment, not a spectator taking snapshots. Therefore, anything he produces is always photojournalism, whether a bomb goes off or not.

By JaFO (Apr 22, 2013)

heaven forbid a mere spectator shoots better pictures with a mere phone.

Unless of course that spectator happens to be a photographer, in which case the headline would have read : "Photographer covers sporting event with phone" ...

1 upvote
By D1N0 (Apr 20, 2013)

News is news. You're hardly going to call your newspaper to send their Terorrism photographer.

By Apewithacamera (Apr 20, 2013)

Everyone at that horrible Boston bombing was a victim including the photographer who captured this photo.

Image capturing media can also lead to capturing those responsible as it did at this event.

Keep the cameras rolling!

By vastoulis (Apr 20, 2013)

In the old,pre-digital days,the following joke was common:
In a photojournalism class the lecturer says,
You are on the seaside and there is a man drowning in front of you.You can either jump in the water and try to save him or take an impressive picture of him drowning.
The question for the class is,
"What ISO film would you use?"

By plasnu (Apr 20, 2013)


By alpha90290 (Apr 20, 2013)

I may use ISO 400 or ISO 800 film.

Because I don't know how to swim.

But photography will be after I call for help.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
Joe Ogiba
By Joe Ogiba (Apr 20, 2013)

Before 1982 it would have been" What ASA film would you use ?".

By jj74e (Apr 20, 2013)

We are humans first, photographers second. If you could trade a historical photograph for someone's life, would you not?

Even if the person you are considering photographing isn't in danger of dying (and he/she is 'merely' critically injured or less), would you be able to stand there and photograph them in their pain?

More than a question of exploitation, you have to wonder what the point of photography is if it obstructs your ability to help people.

By Mescalamba (Apr 20, 2013)

While I agree, problem is that this way, you wont get Pulitzer or World Press Photo award.

Good photojournalist is bit like coyote or hyena..

1 upvote
By 3DSimmon (Apr 20, 2013)

Look at the Picture, there are about a dozen cops in the near vicinity, probably hundreds of able bodied helpers as well, someone might as well document the disaster and who better than a photojournalist.

By MrTaikitso (Apr 20, 2013)

Only if your photography will provide evidence of an atrocity or other event where proof or shock value will be a force for good. My policy would be to shout, "Just one picture to record the event, then I'll help you." As long as the time taken was nothing more than a few seconds, and the person did not need immediate attention. But in reality, maybe one would act differently? I have yet to face that scenario, but think about it all the time.

By speculatrix (Apr 21, 2013)

What would you do if the crime being committed was the cops beating someone and by taking photos you were risking your own well being and possibly having equipment smashed?

1 upvote
By Mescalamba (Apr 21, 2013)

I take back what I said. I stirred one discussion that made me think. Photojournalism is important, very important. Its just reasons behind certain photojournalists that are not as honorable as dedication to capturing important moments in history, but that doesnt make it any less important.

1 upvote
By starwolfy (Apr 20, 2013)

Difficult subjet.
Take pictures and do your job to record this tragic event...or...put your camera away and help with others ?
I don't know...
If you take Robert Capa I don't think he would have taken a gun instead of his camera to record D-Day etc.
I think problem is nowadays people are offended with everything. And I understand that because of people's magazines and paparazzo the job of photographer can now be taken for voyeurism...

Sometimes I am wondering of one day we will have news without pictures to illustrate them.

By tornwald (Apr 20, 2013)


By marike6 (Apr 20, 2013)

So this fascinating and topical philosophical question for photographers (and human beings) doesn't interest you in the slightest yet somehow people here should be interested to know that it doesn't interest you?

By robogobo (Apr 20, 2013)

Last time I checked, photojournalism was photography. When did this imaginary line appear?

By gloaming (Apr 20, 2013)

The crime for the victim has already taken place, so there is no 'crime prevention' done by photogs who look on 'professionally' snapping photos while injured people bleed to death at their feet. Professional behaviour is necessarily a service. What service do the snappers do for those whose images they capture...while they bleed to death?

Jack Simpson
By Jack Simpson (Apr 20, 2013)

Vancouver .... June 1994 and 2011 Amazing how "fill in the descriptive word of your choice " :(

for photojournalists .... in 1994 ... scary but that's the job

2011 .... oh cool, that'l be neat on Utube x 50,000 :(

By zevobh (Apr 20, 2013)

OY! the article you are referencing is about the line between SPORTS photography and photojournalism. not about the (unquestionably nonexistent) line between photojournalism and photography, photojournalism IS photography, that is why there is photo in the name.

not sure if it is a mistype, or just over sensationalizing a simple guardian article. fix it ether way.

By LoScalzo (Apr 20, 2013)

Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki can be seen shooting the first photograph above (runner down, with police), in this video at the 32 second point:

Read more:

1 upvote
Carlos C
By Carlos C (Apr 20, 2013)

Having watched the video of the Boston Marathon bombing at least 20 times I did see at least one photographer that looked professional taking pictures, but also letting his camera hang by its strap as he helped to remove some of the barriers in front of the victims.

1 upvote
Zvonimir Tosic
By Zvonimir Tosic (Apr 20, 2013)

Reflect this unfortunate tragedy to organised protests of photographers, who reacted on (what they believe were) severe restrictions of their rights to take photographs in public and other places.

In this case, without so many photographs taken by so many spectators, and police being unable to get them and analyse, it is very likely the suspects would never be found, and would be encouraged to commit even more crime.

By allowing people to take photographs more freely, and with expanding social media, we also have a very effective crime preventive. Governments may demand more budget money to tighten national security and limit photographers' rights, or, they can be more relaxed and allow citizens and people of good will to be an active part of it.

By iAPX (Apr 20, 2013)

Personally, without any medical training, I think I would have take shoot. But not shooting to show blood and bones, but instead, to capture the instant, the feeling, with respect for the injured and the deads.

As stated "I sincerely hope I never have to."

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
By Marty4650 (Apr 19, 2013)

As far as that fine line goes... I don't think there was much the photographer could have done to help anyone unless he had some very specific medical training. When something like this happens, people rush to "help" and often get in the way of the EMTs and police.

Well meaning good Samaritans often add to the confusion and hinder the rescue effort. Panicked people without the proper training would do best just to stand clear, unless they are specifically asked to do something. This is the real fine line to worry about. Are you really helping or are you just getting in the way?

This isn't like the case of the man who fell into the subway pit, where some said the photographer should have pulled him out rather than taking photos. Even in that case, the train was moving so fast and the photographer was so far away that he couldn't have done anything.

By kenyee (Apr 20, 2013)

Someone is bleeding, you can go get things to stop the bleeding with...hold something against the wound, use your belt as a tourniquet. These are all basic things everyone should know w/o medical training.
It's not as clear as helping a man who fell into a pit, but it's not as clear as saying "I'm not a doctor" either...

Total comments: 34