Citizen Journalism and Phone Cameras

Way back in the late 80's the vast majority of news and VIP photos were taken by professional news photographers, usually employed by newspapers, news agencies alongside freelancers. This group of people worked day in day out often as a posse circling their subject until a photographic 'kill' had been achieved. However, that's where the colloquial 'cowboy' analogy ends this group of photographers were, in the main, highly professional lensmen (with very occasional and increasing in number lenswomen) who took photos to order and frequently processed, sometimes with the aid of an assistant, monochrome or colour film on site and transmitted selected images to their respective picture desk to meet deadline. Most were likely to be called Reg or Brian. Were honest, talented and highly professional photographers.

Those were the days? Not quite, heavy equipment bags including a 30lb wire machine, early deadlines and finding a telephone and electricity point were just some of the difficulties encountered on a daily basis. The competition was considerable but with a camaraderie that always gave an air of professional integrity.

Then came the 90's and VIP's gave way to 'celebrities' and royalty was pursued at pace by bounty hunting photographers or paparazzi, often pillion riding on motorbikes or stalking at a distance on very long lenses, maybe the equivalent of modern-day outlaws. At the same time, the trusty possee continued with their assignments, while this new breed of go-get photographer often roamed the planet chasing the 'golden fleece' of an exclusive image. At around this time mobile telephones also appeared in great numbers and enabled fast voice communication for information or briefing.

At the turn of the millennium we saw mobile phone technology move at such a rate we had ever improving cameras within ever decreasing in size phones. Celebrity photography had by now become so important to newspapers and magazines that specialist celebrity photo agencies had sprung up and hoardes of flying paparazzi had been whipped up into a frenzy with the high value placed on exclusive photo sets. Agencies often worked in conjunction with celebrities, mocking up 'exclusives' and inflating image values to the highest bidder. The self-policing posse of news photographers continued to work in a similar, professional way, but the ever-increasing paparazzi had aggressive opportunists attaching themselves to the highly competitive world of celebrity snapping. These novo paps had little training, little respect for their subjects but plenty of balls and above all the ability to take, edit and transmit images to their agency or clients within minutes of shots being taken. Great technology, not so great for their subjects! Immediacy had arrived.

Now we have sophisticated cameras within mobile phones. Their specification can almost match a pro's camera but they take up a fraction of the space. High end phone cameras also have one button capture and also provide very good video quality, certainly good enough for broadcast. People seem to have more leisure options and routinely travel internationally. The opportunities are clearly there.

That brings me back to the question of why Joe Public is only scratching the surface of his potential? Well on a few recent world news events many citizen journalists have provided us all with insight into events never seen before. Buildings collapsing, inside underground train carriages after a bomb had exploded or a car floating down a flooded river. But where are those millions of camerphone holding citizens everyday news related images? Do they need a nudge? I suspect that to unlock this mass of potential we need to provide information, promotion, organisation and reward. Information on what they hold in their hand and how to use it. Promotion to remind them of their potential and what a resource it can be. Organisation in leading them to agencies or outlets for their pictures and reward financially and who can resist seeing their name "up in lights"?.