When the line blurs between photography and photojournalism
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'.
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'.
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.
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