Me, in 5 years

Why journalism? Why indeed. It’s not a question I get asked a lot, but then, as a photographer who wants to be a photojournalist, it’s not the first question that people think to ask. Mostly I get asked whether I can shoot their wedding, or their newborn baby. The ‘-journalism’ half of my desired profession generally goes unnoticed and unremarked upon. And so it falls to me alone to muster up the necessary excitement, which I unfailingly do.

I’m too old to be blindly optimistic and naively idealistic, and too well-read to speak in cliches and talking points, but sometimes the best way to describe something IS the simplest. And so when I’m asked what kind of photojournalism I want to do, I usually answer with “I want to take photos that help people and effect people’s lives in meaningful ways. I don’t want to cover city hall or the police blotter, I want to change the world.” Even when I’m speaking the words I know how corny they sound. Looking at them in writing only reinforces that opinion, but as I mentioned, there just isn’t a way to say that without having that corollary effect.

I want to be an international documentary photojournalist. I want to cover wars, famines, strikes, revolutions, demonstrations, genocides, human rights issues, and all related topics. As a news consumer in the modern world it’s easy to become jaded to the myriad suffering occurring daily in all the hidden corners of the globe. Good reporters are still covering some of these issues, but other issues and conflicts are unreported and as a result, show no signs of abating.

During the genocide in Rwanda stories about the killings and the massacres were published often enough in the New York Times and other papers, but what effect did that have? Good reporting is absolutely essential to getting a story out, but it’s easy for people to ignore, to begin reading and then put down, just more bad news somewhere else—news that doesn’t effect the reader personally. However, ONE powerful image can grab and even form public opinion, and the emotional impact is practically impossible to ignore, even sometimes to forget.

One image defined the Vietnam war, and still brings tears to my eyes. The image is painful to look at, and it was so horrifying to many people that it single-handedly changed public opinion about the war. Another one defined the Afghanistan conflict a decade later, and has since become one of the most famous images of all time. A joyful image of a sailor spontaneously kissing a nurse in Times Square encapsulated the feelings of millions of Americans in 1945.

Obviously, the right image can, and has, changed the world.

Ideally I would like to freelance for international news publications and magazines, but I’ve also applied to the UN for their occasionally-available photographer job positions.

For a more detailed examination of EXACTLY what I’d like to do, you can watch the excellent (and Oscar-nominated) documentary War Photographer, about the amazing photographer James Nachtwey.

Here at SFSU I hope to learn the technical knowledge and storytelling skills necessary for taking on time-sensitive, breaking news stories wherever they may be, and the connections to get those images published for the world to see.

Elijah

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