Can Photojournalism Survive in the Instagram Era?

Renowned photography theorist Fred Ritchin has a simple message for those behind the camera: Innovate or die. —By | Thu Jul. 18, 2013 3:00 AM PDT

An Afghan soldier protects his face from a dust storm. © Balazs Gardi /, Creative Commons.

Experimenting with iPhone photography is nothing new for journalism outlets. During Hurricane Sandy, Time turned over its Instagram feed to five photographers who delivered an eerie, often radiant record of the storm and its aftermath. (One of Benjamin Lowy’s iPhone images graced the print magazine’s cover on November 12, 2012.) Time deemed the experiment a success: Its Lightbox photo blog garnered 13 percent of its overall web traffic during the week of Sandy, and its Instagram racked up 12,000 new followers in 48 hours.

In his new book Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen, photographer Fred Ritchin tackles these developments and more as he explores what the digital revolution means for his trade.

His own résumé includes stints as a photo editor for the New York Times magazine and the executive editor of Camera Arts, as well as a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his work on the 1996 website Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace. Ritchin also cofounded PixelPress, a website devoted to helping humanitarian groups develop innovative media projects. He now codirects the Photography and Human Rights program at New York University.

Bending the Frame is a vigorous wake-up call to photojournalists to innovate or die. Photographers, Ritchen writes, should continually be asking how they can create more meaningful imagery rather than just chase the “trail of the incendiary.” I asked Ritchin to fill me in on the details. Interspersed throughout the interview are examples of photographic projects that he considers particularly innovative or audacious. READ THE INTERVIEW IN MOTHER JONES.

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