Zooming in on photojournalism
The Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson is regarded as the founding father of photojournalism. Cartier-Bresson, co-founder of Magnum, one of the world’s most influential photo-agencies, started his affair with photography with a simple Box Brownie camera. He insisted on only using the available light, and on editing “in the camera” rather than in the darkroom. He covered events such as the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he met just 90 minutes before he was shot, in 1948. His The Decisive Moment is a classic, which has influenced generations of photographers. Published in 1952, this collection of his best work from his early years had a collage cover by Henri Matisse.
The first and only reprint is a meticulous facsimile of the original book with an additional booklet on the history of The Decisive Moment by Centre Pompidou curator Clément Chéroux. Another legendary photojournalist who captured images of Gandhi a few hours before his assassination was Margaret Bourke-White, who had worked as staff photographer for Fortune and Life magazines. Her photo of the Mahatma at his spinning wheel is iconic.
The Photographs of Margaret Bourke- White edited by Sean Callahan is a collection of one of America’s great photographers. Raghu Rai, a protégé of Cartier-Bresson, is probably India’s most well-known photojournalist, having worked in leading Indian publications and served as the jury for World Press photos. He has produced more than 35 photobooks including Romance of India, Taj Mahal and Mahakumbh. Many consider Stefan Lorant (co-founder of British picture magazine Picture Post) as the godfather of photojournalism.
Lorant’s pictorial histories of the American Presidents include Lincoln: His Life in Photographs, a forerunner in the genre of pictorial biography, and FDR: A Pictorial Biography. His other works include The New World and the photographic book Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City. One of my favourites is New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, known for his candid and street photography. Bill led a modest life, bicycling his way through Manhattan and living in a tiny apartment in the Carnegie Hall building.
His life is captured in the documentary Bill Cunningham New York. His memoir Fashion Climbing is the untold story of his education in creativity and style. Ansel Adams is an environmentalist and one of America’s most famous landscape photographers. He advocated for “pure” photography which favoured sharp focus and the use of the full tonal range of a photograph. His photos of Yosemite National Park are best captured in Ansel Adams’ Yosemite.
My friend Vicky Roy taught me that photography, particularly street photography, captures the essence. He is on a mission to capture the stories of people with disabilities across every Indian state for the campaign ‘Everyone is Good at Something’. Vicky sold his first photo for five rupees! His book Home Street Home captures his journey from his home to living in the streets and then to finding his home again. The smartphone camera has democratised photography but can technology turn a mediocre photographer into a great one? Already it is becoming hard to distinguish between a photograph and an AI-generated image. That is why photojournalism is more relevant than ever. (The author is a technologist based in Silicon Valley who is gently mad about books)