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|| News Item: Posted 2007-12-04

Photojournalism: A Small World
Jim McNay says everyone knows everyone and everyone talks to everyone.

By Jim McNay

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Everyone knows everyone and everyone talks to everyone. Here is a group of photographers getting together for some BBQ in Luling, Texas: Jake Nielsen, Albert Dixon, Darren Carroll, Robert Seale, Karen Warren, Jay Drowns and Nate Gordon.
With photojournalists spread across the country and the world, one might imagine the number of participants is vast and there is little contact among photographers.

In fact it's just the reverse. One way to sum up the reality might be: Photojournalism is made up of a small number of photographers. Everyone knows everyone else. Everyone talks to everyone else.

This is true more than ever with the possibilities of the Internet and the Web. The on-line community alone is evidence enough. It's easy to chat, read, compare notes, stay in touch, follow other shooter's latest exploits.

But beyond the obvious, the culture among photographers is often to pay attention to what others are doing in the business. Photographers (OK, and their moms) read photography credits. Shooters look at other photographers' websites. They scope out books, Websites and publications that show winning work from the major photojournalism competitions.

In short, photographers notice.

On assignment, at home or abroad, photographers often want to know who that Other Photographer is across the way-and who they're shooting for. Years ago a rookie photographer met a National Geographic photographer for the first time at an alligator skin auction-because the Geographic photographer introduced themselves first and asked the standard questions.

And photographers talk to each other, in person, by phone, by e-mail.

If so-and-so is offered a cool wire bureau job in the Bahamas, jumping them ahead of several other more senior photographers, the gossip wires start buzzing like hummingbirds around bougainvillea. If someone is in the doghouse for allegedly going a bit far in influencing the final look of a picture, the chatter will be rife. If a student intern got the sack halfway through the summer after getting cross-wise with a notorious Paleolithic era city editor, photographers across the nation will know.

We're like a bunch of fishwives in that sense. We want to know, we want to pass it on.

It's particularly valuable for photographers entering the field to know this is part of the game. It's probably even a good aspect of the business. It means the profession is watching even that one photographer on staff in the remotest part of the country, keeping them honest. It lets them know even in their little town, far away from journalism's mainstream, what they do matters. They will be held accountable for proper behavior at funerals. They will be expected to guard against the siren song to vigorously overuse Photoshop's power.

In one sense, this is a reminder that like movie stars, when photographers step outside on the way to a job, they are "on," they are recognized. Two communities are watching: The local one and the professional one

Bottom line: It's a small profession. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone talks to everyone.

Jim McNay teaches and writes about photojournalism---while fantasizing about running a charter fishing business in Key West. Please send ideas for future columns to McNay through his member page:

Questions about getting started in photojournalism that might be answered in future columns are also welcome.

Related Links:
McNay's member page

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