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Women in Photojournalism

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“Our storytellers have been homogeneous while our society is incredibly diverse,” said Danielle Villasana in a New York Times article. Journalism was often seen as a field for the outcasts. But even then, the outcasts must fit carefully defined categories. And as such, journalism has always been a white male-dominated field. You can see this in television shows about working in the news industry, like ‘The Newsroom.’ While the show did try to aim for diversity, there was only one woman of color among a cast of eight. In celebrating Women’s History Month, it is essential to look at the impact of some of the work of female-identifying photojournalists. After all, a more diverse newsroom can help you cover missed perspectives. Journalists bring their unique experiences to the table. So, let’s start with women of color. There are some stories that only women of color can cover because of their experiences as women

In photojournalism, that equates to them taking photographs knowing what lens or how much light to use to complement other people of color. An example of this can be seen in Annie Leibovitz’s portrait of Simone Biles for Vogue Magazine’s August 2020 Issue cover. It sparked controversy online because numerous photographers and photo editors said that Leibovitz’s lighting washed out Biles’ skin tone and made her seem muted,

Tara Pixley, in the article, said that to win photo competitions, you have to submit ones with “starving or dying or war-torn black or brown bodies to win.” And while it is essential to photograph the various crises worldwide, it is equally important to document people of color just living their lives like anyone else. This removes the sense of otherness that is often attached to people of color. By pulling the veil apart, they show there is no mystery and that people live lives that are often similar. 

Lynsey Addario’s photos and article for a National Geographic article are reminiscent of her previous work, “The Displaced.” That photo series was shot over five years ago and included malnourished children from South Sudan. In the article, one of Addario’s interviewees, a nurse, Valerie Browning, said she saw some boys playing with milk. Her quote was powerful because it shows that South Sudan is not always famine-struck like it is portrayed in popular culture. And hard times can happen to anyone. 

These photos are hard to look at, but Addario captured her subjects in a way beyond photo composition. As a result, the audience can empathize with them even through a picture. Even though it is a complex topic, her photos are not dull or dreary but full of color. There are striking reds and blues. Even her use of lack of light and shadows makes them pop. This is especially noticeable in the picture of Fatuma Yassin and her son Khalid. 

The green starkly contrasts with the darkness everywhere else in the photo. The only natural light source shines on Khalid while Fatuma’s face is covered in shadow. The caption also shows that this is a hospital they’re in. Hospitals are supposed to be a place where lives are saved, which allows the audience to empathize further with her struggles. 

Addario’s article also has well-researched information showing further proof that photojournalism has now evolved beyond just being about pictures. Instead, it’s all about using photos and a report to complement each other.

“...Photojournalism is their second realm of existence…” is a striking statement that shows the level of commitment that photojournalists should strive to reach. Over the length of her career and portfolio, Paula Bronstein has demonstrated that she has reached those heights. 

Like other crisis photojournalists such as Lynsey Addario, Bronstein’s photos capture the emotions on her subjects’ faces and their body language. This connects to what Addario said about feeling critical in pictures, so the audience will empathize and want to ask questions. This starts a conversation, and if the stars align, your photos can be why governments put some policies in place to help people. 

One photo in which you can see Bronstein capturing emotion in body language is when Rohingya refugees are fleeing from Myanmar while walking on mudbanks. Even though her caption says they are exhausted, you can see it without reading it. It is in the way their bodies are positioned. Her photo perfectly freezes this moment in time.

The photo seems muted despite its bright colors, such as green. There is also the concept of natural lines in the image. In this case, it is the heads and the line of people. It guides your eyes to the end of the photo, where you can see just how long this line of refugees is. 

“From war to natural disaster to epidemics and addiction, it’s never easy. But it’s important to bear witness in a way that’s not graphic or exploitative, to make a strong statement, and - when needed - hold power to account,” said Bronstein in the Blind magazine article. This is an important phrase that should guide how photojournalists take photos.

In conclusion, women have made quite an impact in photojournalism. They stand toe to toe with their male counterparts in environments that most will never experience. In addition, their photos allow their audiences to empathize with their subjects, allowing for more advocacy. These trailblazers have changed how audiences see the world, so International Women’s Month is an excellent time to recognize all they have done.


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