West: A few words on photojournalism

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By MIKE WEST, Courier Editor

So, I can't let an article about photojournalist Aaron Thompson pass without a comment or two.

I've worked with a number of photographers during my career in newspapers, but just a handful of photojournalists.

Believe me, there is a difference between the two with a photojournalist being a reporter who writes his/her story with photographs instead of a computer.

Instead of carrying a notepad or tape recorder, the photojournalist carries a ton of cameras, lenses and gear and often must face physical dangers and stress. You should try carrying a bag full of heavy lenses and two or three camera bodies and try fighting a boisterous crowd when its 90-degrees or raining or snowing. Personally, my aching back just can't take it.

But issues press even heavier on the conscience of photojournalists.

Just consider this one rule from the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). "It is the individual responsibility of every photojournalist at all times to strive for pictures that report truthfully, honestly and objectively."

That is a hard thing to do, but Aaron Thompson did it every day while working as a photojournalist. You've got to admire him for that. He didn't take the easy way.

But even more, you must admire his skill as a photographer. He manages to take photos that are true works of art. And some of his photos even surpass that lofty goal. His photograph of young Christian Golczynski cuts straight to the soul.

Aaron took a photograph of young Christian accepting the folded flag that had draped his fallen father's coffin. Tears were in his eyes as he snapped the shutter at Marc Golczynski's grave side.

That photo has appeared countless places since and tells, in one image, the tragedy of the war in Iraq.

No. Aaron did not push and shove his way to grab that shot. He first approached Marc's parents and asked them for permission to attend the funeral and possibly take a photograph.

And he took a photo that shared the plight of the Golczynski family with the world.

Very few people can do that.

If you enjoy photography, you should attend Aaron's show at the Arts Center of Cannon County. It opens June 17.


While on the topic of photos, some folks wonder why so many newspapers highlight photographs of auto accidents.

Several years ago (let’s say 20 or 30 years), it was the popular or trendy thing to do.

Why? There was a good deal of reader interest. One newspaper I worked out made it a goal of photographing any car crash with injuries.

Needless to say, we took a lot of them maybe one or two a week.( Now it would be dozens a week.)

We listened to the police radio scanner day and night to catch the wrecks. In fact, we got so good at it, the police decided to play a little practical joke on us.

So one morning at 10:46, the police dispatcher announced an intersection. And we raced, uh, hustled, uh, headed in that direction, looking for a 10-46 (which was radio code in those days for an auto accident with injury.)

When we didn’t find one we headed to the police department where we were met by a solemn-faced dispatcher who explained that he was just announcing the time. That explained the 10-46.

With a laugh, he said the address just came off the top of his head. Yep, he had tricked us.

But he also had a valid point, we could check the “news value” of an accident with a call to the police department instead of racing to the scene.

Eventually, we did learn if it was a serious enough collision we didn’t have to hurry to the crash scene. If it was a bad accident, the authorities would be there for hours.

Now a days, it is the TV stations that hurry to accident scenes. You might see a blurb about the wreck on the 10 o’clock news, but more than likely you will see photos and coverage on the Internet.

And if you have a smart phone, you might get an alert about the crash. That, I can see the value of especially when it can save you from being caught up in a wreck-related traffic jam.

But, does that coverage make people drive safer? That was, after all, the reason we used to cite behind covering all those accidents.

I seriously doubt it. Most collisions are purely accidental. It’s not like you plan to have a wreck.

When you come down to it, wrecks are news like it or not. Each one is a tragedy either big or small.

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Aaron Thompson, Mike West, photojournalism
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