Opportunity Manifest: Make Film Great Again

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by Michael Nguyen /

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Opportunity Manifest: Make Film Great Again
Anyone else got qualms with the state of photography coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? An opportunity to do something about it has manifested; The New York Times has posted a job listing seeking a staff photographer who will primarily cover the White House and Capitol Hill and be based in Washington D.C.

The ideal candidate is “a versatile visual journalist who is technically adept and open to working in a wide array of visual approaches and formats. This position requires diplomacy, ingenuity, and the ability to convey the world of Washington to our readers with images that go beyond press briefings and photo sprays. The ideal candidate will excel under deadline pressure and will also possess excellent reporting and writing skills, as he or she will be expected to provide not only imagery, but accurate and thorough captions and accompanying reporting.”

Taking a look over at the official White house flickr page and one can’t help but be underwhelmed. Politics aside and with all due respect, the level of photography coming out of this administration thus far has been objectively subpar to prior campaigns. Clinical staleness, poor framing, exorbitant wide angles, meaningless bokeh and clipped limbs abound.

Without a single shred of doubt someone amongst us out there can do a better job than this. Compare these to some of Pete Souza’s work from Obama’s administration and the difference is not insignificant.

Regardless of your political views and opinions of the current POTUS it’s an opportunity to document history, period. Is the main objective of journalism not to portray issues and events in a neutral and unbiased manner, regardless of the writers/photographers opinion or personal beliefs?

Of course in this instant gratification generation shooting digital is a must in some time-sensitive situations but why not shoot film as well? The job description does call for “working in a wide array of visual approaches and formats”; for occasions that don’t have a pressing time constraint, shooting film for documentation is not only more archival but distinctive from the masses of images on Reuters, AP, etc. There’s always the local Costco but I’m sure in a large city like D.C. there’s more one hour developing options which alleviates the need to get images as soon as possible.

Let’s take a quick gander at some images taken on film from previous administrations. Clock-wise from top left: Yoichi Okamoto for LBJ, Pete Souza for Reagan, Eric Draper for Bush II, and Robert Mcneeley for Clinton.

It’d be interesting to bring film back into the journalistic mix and compare how the images would be compared to their digital counterparts. Of course non-stabilized, high ISO tele shots on film won’t be able to hang but for normal to wide focal lengths in good light, I’d argue that the film look has its benefits. A great piece in the New York Times all shot on film could go a long ways to rekindle that silver halide flame.

So here’s an opportunity to Make Film Great Again. Useless drivel or viable experiment? As always, your comments are welcome below.

MN

5 comments on “Opportunity Manifest: Make Film Great Again”

    stanislaw riccadonna zolczynski February 19, 2018 at 7:30 pm / Reply

    In fast moving journalistic lane there`s little space for film indulgence but an official group portraits on 8×10 camera would be quite fitting in the White House overall picture. Make America great again – on film.

    Seb February 19, 2018 at 9:51 pm / Reply

    I see many opportunities for film, lith print, collodion, pinhole photo or creative chemistry in the White House. I’ll raise my glass of Rodinal to the film photographer who will introduce the current administration to the subtleties of caffenol and the compensating effect of semi-stand development.

    Still, the job listing calls for a candidate that “will excel under deadline pressure”. Good luck with that, Walter Mitty!

    Andrew MacGregor February 19, 2018 at 11:54 pm / Reply

    Perhaps openly disparaging journalists leads to the good ones not wanting to work for you.

    Jim February 20, 2018 at 3:45 am / Reply

    Ok film is nice BUT
    1. It is simply not an option in this environment. The Post’s entire work flow is digital now.
    2. The Post publicly posted this job but already knows who they are gonna hire. The public posting is simply to make HR happy.

    Howard Maryon-Davis March 6, 2018 at 3:36 am / Reply

    As Jim says, it is a foregone conclusion that digital imaging is at the core of modern communication and we can never go back from that. When I was young, a lowly film developer in London, back in the 1960’s I knew a lot of the press photographers and photojournalists. Film arrived by motorbike, closely followed by photographer dragging weighty camera box full of heavy medium format kit, who camped out in our lab reception like an expectant father, smoking and pacing up and down, until I emerged to tell him his films were in the drying cabinet. “Are they ok?” Was the question every time, even from seasoned old hacks who had started out in the 1930’s with 5×4 Speed Graphics. Film is perfectly capable of getting the job done even today, but the uncertainty of the medium is simultaneously its charm and its downfall. I for one could not stand the stress of waiting to see if I had got the vital shot in that situation, and I dont think any press photographer would either.

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