Lars Bauernschmitt, Michael Ebert: Handbuch des Fotojournalismus [Photojournalism handbook] reviewed by Evelyn Runge

Some icons of 20th Century photojournalism need no introduction: Joe Rosenthal’s image of soldiers hoisting the American flag in Iwo Jima (1945); Malcolm Browne’s photo of the monk Thich Quang Duc setting himself alight in Saigon (1963); and Nick Ut’s film of terrified children fleeing in Vietnam (1972) are all etched in our collective memory. But war and crisis are not the only situations that give rise to iconic photographs – science and even paparazzi images can be just as memorable. The product of twelve years’ preparation, Lennart Nilsson’s “legendary photostory on the development of human life in the womb” (p. 268) was published in LIFE  magazine in 1965. It was made possible by Karl Storz Endoskope – a company based in Tuttlingen, Germany, that worked with the photographer to develop the necessary camera systems (p. 268, 274f.). The “King of the Paparazzi” (White/TIME, no date), Ron Galella, even lost his lower front teeth while working as a photographer when actor Marlon Brando broke his jaw – making Galella himself the story. Next time, he approached Brando wearing a helmet (p. 216f.).

These images and many more form the basis of the Handbuch des Fotojournalismus, which provides a broad overview of the profession’s history, forms, applications and practice. The practical expertise of its authors Lars Bauernschmitt and Michael Ebert is in evidence throughout the book. Both have decades of experience in the German photography sector: Bauernschmitt’s roles included Managing Director of the VISUM agency (1993-2008), while Ebert has been a photojournalist for media, companies and as a member of Bauernschmitt’s former agency since 1979. Both also teach photojournalism at Hanover University of Applied Sciences.

The authors kick off their 17 chapters by examining the history of photography, modern photojournalism and specific means of expression in chronological order. Chapters 5 to 11 each focus on a different subject, including local journalism (p. 169ff.), sport photography (p. 183ff.), paparazzi (p. 217ff.), politicians (p. 229ff.), and the role of photojournalism in public relations (p. 245ff.) and in nature and science photography (p. 267ff.). The book closes with information on equipment (p. 281ff.), hardware and software (p. 297ff.), the image market and photographers’ rights (p. 305ff.).

Unlike the many recent publications that equate image and photojournalism with war or crisis photography (e.g. Pensold 2015), Bauernschmitt and Ebert have deliberately chosen a broad-ranging approach. This perspective enables them to portray the complexity of photojournalism in a huge variety of ways – be it by reflecting on the change in forms of publication through digitization and equipment requirements (cf. e.g. p. 137, 297ff.) or by providing tips on how photographers can find their niche(s) and create their brand (e.g. p. 305ff., 316ff., 327ff., 335ff.). The authors emphasize the expanding market for photo agencies that are not explicitly for journalistic purposes. Using Getty Images as an example, they describe the enormous extent to which photos have become commodities (p. 305ff.) – through payment forms like micropayment (p. 307f.), licensing models like royalty-free (p. 311), and the increasing use of stock photos (p. 325; cf. also Glückler/Panitz 2013, Runge 2016).

Each chapter also touches on the working conditions of photojournalists, although rarely those of picture editors. The authors state that around 4,000 people in Germany earn their living “directly or indirectly through journalistic photography” (p. vi). Despite falling sales and wages, and the fact that photoreporters are expected to take on more and more work, it remains an attractive job (p. vii) – the 500 new graduates who join the profession every year are testament to this (p. 306): “To a certain extent, our profession is a ticket to other worlds. You are constantly sent to a huge range of other people in order to take photos. You are always immersed in new situations and lives to which a normal mortal has little access”, says Rolf Nobel, Professor of Photography at Hanover University of Applied Sciences (p. 401).

As well as presenting theoretical and historic principles, each chapter also includes numerous interviews with practitioners from a huge range of photojournalistic fields. Women in positions of leadership also have a chance to speak – commendable given that their work remains barely recognized in the otherwise male-dominated world of photojournalism (cf. Isermann 2015, Pensold 2015). The interviewees report on their everyday work, including their pay and the effort involved. Although conscious of the stiff competition in the sector, Haika Hinze, Art Director of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit (p. 133ff.), claims that Die Zeit pays fees that are “decent compared with the rest of the market” (p. 133), although “it is painful to know that we cannot pay the photographer the non-material value of his work” (p. 133). Ruth Eichhorn, who was responsible for photography for Geo magazine from 1994 to 2005, explains how the magazine conducts large reports – including extensive on-site research by the editorial office “together with the photographer” (p. 144).

Chapter 10 on “Photojournalism in PR” (p. 244ff.) is particularly worthy of note, with Bauernschmitt producing an excellent exploration of corporate publishing’s increasing reliance on photojournalistic storytelling. Falling pay in the press sector is pushing photojournalists to take on work for company and society publications. Photojournalism-style images appear more authentic than advertising photography – a quality that companies use to enhance customer loyalty (cf. 246, 250), but that makes it even more difficult for consumers to differentiate journalism from advertising (cf. also p. 397).

Bauernschmitt and Ebert make frequent references to their own university, be it in interviews with photographers who also teach at Hanover University of Applied Sciences (e.g. p. 261, 379) or in repeated mentions of the Lumix photography festival, which is held in cooperation with the University (e.g. p. 100, 152, 155, 157). This focus is undoubtedly rather one-sided, with other respected schools such as Lette-Verein Berlin, Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences, the Staatliche Fachakademie für Fotodesign in Munich and Dortmund University of Applied Sciences not getting so much as a mention. Although their names do not include ‘photojournalism’, these institutions play a vital role in training and educating photographers in Germany. An information section listing some of these addresses at the back of the book would have gone some way to preventing the Handbuch des Fotojournalismus from resembling covert advertising for Hanover University of Applied Sciences.

The book is richly illustrated with photographs, including historic images and a relatively large number of reproductions of double-page spreads and front pages from magazines such as LIFE and Spiegel (e.g. p. 101, 106, 107, 196). Although the authors emphasize the importance of detailed image captions to provide context (p. 341f.), they do not always follow their own advice. One series of six photos by Pete Souza, former Chief Official White House Photographer, shows US President Barack Obama in various interview situations (p. 236-238), as well as the famous image from the White House situation room showing Obama and his closest aides watching live images from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound (p. 235). Although this photograph was so widely reported, the book does not mention the debate. Another point of criticism is the lack of academic sources. The authors do include a reading list (p. 405 ff.) that provides a solid overview of standard works on the basics of photography, photojournalism and their history, techniques, image design, market and legal situation, but the text itself lacks direct references and source information – a real downside for academic readers.

All in all, the Handbuch des Fotojournalismus has an attractive design. Its key plus points are its broad remit and the authors’ expertise in the history and practice of photojournalism. The book also demonstrates the enormous potential for research in photojournalism that goes beyond the art history perspective – for example relating to the media economy, the importance of visual communication in science, and the production and effectiveness of digital storytelling.

 

Bibliography:

  • Glückler, Johannes; Robert Panitz: Survey of the Global Stock Image Market 2012. Part I bis III. Heidelberg [GSIM Research Group] 2013.
  • Isermann, Holger: Digitale Augenzeugen. Entgrenzung, Funktionswandel und Glaubwürdigkeit im Bildjournalismus. Wiesbaden [VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften] 2015.
  • Pensold, Wolfgang: Eine Geschichte des Fotojournalismus: Was zählt, sind die Bilder. Wiesbaden [VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften] 2015.
  • Runge, Evelyn: Ökonomie der Fotografie. In: Medienwissenschaft:Rezensionen, 3, 2016, p. 274-296.
  • White, Adam: Ron Galella, King of the Paparazzi. In: TIME. http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2008078,00.html, o.J. (09.10.2016) 

 

This review first appeared in rkm:journal.

 

About the reviewer

Dr. phil. Evelyn Runge researches the production conditions of photojournalists in the digital age (image capture). She receives funding from the Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel (Stiftungsfonds BMBF). Here research focuses on photography in theory and practice; media sociology; image databases and archives; journalism; digital storytelling. She studied Political Science, Journalism, Modern German Literature and Sociology at LMU Munich and undertook editorial training at the Deutsche Journalistenschule in Munich. Her book Motor/Reise. Handbuch für die Medienpraxis (with Hektor Haarkötter) was published by Herbert von Halem Verlag in 2016. Her journalistic work has been published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Cicero, Die Zeit and Süddeutsche Zeitung, among others. She is also an alumna of the Junge Akademie at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften and the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (2011-2016).

 

About the book 

Lars Bauernschmitt, Michael Ebert (2015): Handbuch des Fotojournalismus. Geschichte, Ausdrucksformen, Einsatzgebiete und Praxis. Heidelberg: dpunkt.Verlag. 423 pages. EUR 39.90.