Big changes are happening in photography today, and we cannot blame digital photography for all of these upheavals.
The close connection between photography and reality has not been called into question, but what has been cut up, torn up or wrung out is the ambiguous relationship between photography and truth. And the development of digital photography is the representation rather than the cause of this. Since the invention of film and especially 35mm film, as opposed to plate photography, using photographs in the press has been a source of revenue, recognition and showcase for documentary and reportage photographers. This discipline, which is different both from advertising and fashion photography, and from art photography, gave us the icons of the twentieth century, and is now evolving and changing in the same way as its favourite medium: the press.
In the past, both written and photographic reportage were propped up and supported by advertising in newspapers and magazines. Today, journalism simply fills the blank spaces between the advertisements which have become the raison d’être of the large media groups. This summary might seem simplistic, but it does shed some light on the changes which are taking place both in the medium, the newspapers, and in photography. One can no longer accuse the tabloid newspapers of single-handedly destroying photojournalism. To take a simple, concrete example, the institution created by Cornell Capa in New York was originally called ‘International Fund for Concerned Photographers’, but since its move to the heart of downtown Manhattan it has been known as ‘International Center of Photography’. This tiny change represents the landslide which is shaking the medium as well as photographers. This negative, defeatist outlook is not final, and happily we do have reasons to be in awe and optimistic.
Faced with the shortage of available editorial pages, photographers have rediscovered the virtues of sensitivity. They are exchanging the so-called reality of information for the heat of their convictions. In place of the cold truth, they now communicate the warmth of their emotions confronted by the personal and often intimist subjects which lead them to express their own realities.
We can still see the borders between documentary photography and the conceptual process, but these limits are becoming increasingly blurred and imprecise; the personal involvement necessary to the photoreportage is sweeping away the detachment and reserve often associated with contemporary photography.
Through subjects which are hard, frequently morbid and often far from our everyday concerns, these photographers are taking on the primary role of the artist. They are revealing our deepest contradictions and expressing their dreams and the nightmares which we prefer to forget. Contrary to what has gone on before, the photographer is becoming an essential part of his images, to express himself, he reveals himself as much as he shows.
(PRIVATE 40, introduction, p. 3)