Back in the middle of the 20th century, a very old-fashioned newspaper editor told his youngest staff photographer the secret to success.
“Kid, it all comes down to this: f/8 and Be There.”
“You hear a siren in the middle of night? Don’t think. Just get out of the door as soon as you can. And don’t forget to use a nice, safe cover-your-butt, middle-of-the-road setting on the lens.
I heard recently that photographers camped out in front of Trump Towers got peevish after the president-elect slipped past their cordon for a secret dinner at New York’s 21 Club. They felt that the gentile agreement of Washington’s press pool had been violated, that they had been assigned at considerable expense to record Trump’s every move, and that he owed to them in return to play by the rules.
The problem is? No vital public good is served by having the fourth or fifth camera crammed together for what has devolved into ridiculous political theater. The Chinese government, still stung by the image of a lone student protester blocking a row of tanks at the edge of Tiananmen Square, has become expert ever since in the way they corral photographers.
While in America, we still haven’t gotten over sending half a dozen expensively appointed cameras to blanket the appearance of Socks, the First Cat of the Clinton administration.
Journalists love to gather in circles to whine and moan about their shallow and meaningless fate.
So what’s my solution? The taking of a great photo need never be a group exercise. It calls for independence, insight, originality, courage, patience and a great deal of planning. That’s the kind of work that will always stand out, and to what future generations of communicators should pay more attention.