Are You Photographing Only 10%?

Photo by raffaespo*

Photographers these days are experiencing some major groupthink.

From the current issue of Nieman Reports, Harvard’s journalism review that is devoted entirely to photojournalism this quarter, there is an excerpt from VII Photo Agency’s Stephen Mayes‘ address at the World Press Photo awards.

Mayes talks about his takeaway from five years as a juror for the awards — that certain subjects in photography are overexposed. And, naturally, that means that most other subjects are largely ignored. This, he reasons, is because of the fact that traditional media outlets are shrinking, so more photographers have turned to competitions as an outlet for their work. Mayes says the jurors are “astonished” by the lack of variety and pinpoints the three common themes: the dispossessed, exotic and foreign.

This assessment really rings true and is something we’ve noticed ourselves. But, at the same time, it seems that the only photography that is noticed or appreciated is foreign, whether it be conflict, poverty or strife. (Chicken and egg problem?)

Of the 2009 College Photographer of the Year awards, only one project really stood out as original — Phoebe Sexton‘s series, “Joshua,” on a young bulimic gay man. And that’s why we really like Anthony Karen‘s work. His photos of the KKK are dramatic and powerful but, more importantly, not derivative, addressing a serious, elusive domestic subject matter. 

Mayes breaks it down succinctly here:

Overrepresented: commercial sex, suffering black folk, Muslim women in veils, same sex couples kissing, holding hands.

Underrepresented: middle class, affluent drug users, real sex, personal sex, black culture and expanded vision of black life outside Africa. 

One juror said 90 percent of the pictures are from 10 percent of the world. So how’s that for a challenge — as a photographer, can you seek out the underreported subjects that are inhabiting 90 percent of the world?

Article from Nieman Reports

*This is a good photograph that we are using as illustrative and is in no way meant to impugn the photographer.

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