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Broken Things, Part 2

Why does it matter? We all know there was an earthquake. We all know that tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. How will images that are slightly better, or slideshows that are properly edited, make the situation in Haiti any better?

Photographers, and the media in general, are always a little stumped by this question. To be honest, most Haitians won't see any immediate benefit. Like anything else, the positive affects of a strong media presence will come with time.

To be fair, this is always a tough situation. On one hand you have people accusing the media of being vultures and seeking to profit from this horror. While on the other hand you have victims of the tragedy literally begging journalists to tell the world their story.

It is a huge burden, as a journalist you have to get this right.

First, let's be perfectly clear, take a photographer like Ron Haviv, who is quoted as making at least 15 trips to Haiti in the New York Times Lens blog, a few days back. I'll guarantee you that Ron has never cleared a dime in profit from these trips, and never will. Photojournalists always lose money going to Haiti. Publishers don't care, never will. Even as I write this editors are trying to figure out how to pull people out of there.

Three weeks from now, as far as journalism goes, Haiti will be back off the radar screen where it has been for the last twenty years or so.

This is why it's so important to get it right when you can. As photographers we've got a small window to get a little bit of great work published out of Haiti. We have, maybe two weeks to add another chapter to the permanent record of the ongoing human nightmare that is Haiti.

This is also why poor photography, published poorly is so damaging. People are only going to look so many times. Once their quota on the subject is filled, they'll stop looking. This past week has shown me very few memorable images. I'm afraid as photographers we've missed our window to make a lasting impact on our viewers with Haiti.

What, now we have to wait until the next calamity to get people to pay attention to Haiti again?

This is why aid workers get so upset with the media. We ignore things until people start dying, and by then it's too late to make things right.

I was tasked with telling a small story of one man, his child and the community that supports them (this past week). It's a small story to me, but it's their life. In the end it's a story about a man saving a child, who winds up saving himself.

We as journalists, need to tell this same story about Haiti.

Broken Things

Last week it was suggested that the disaster in Haiti was of such a great magnitude that anyone on the ground with a cellphone could make lasting images that the rest of the world would never forget.

Not likely, (I thought) but I gave it a week.

After thousands of images, on dozens of different sites, my initial reaction was confirmed. World shocking events such as this need to be properly documented by great photographers. I'm not even talking photojournalists here. Think of Joel Meyerowitz's work on the World Trade Center as an example.

Sure, the usual players got professionals on the ground, and they did a very good job under trying conditions. There were some good images made, but by and large, the coverage was very weak.

I'm not just talking about the image quality, but the presentation. Online, you don't have the tools of image size, or placement to impact viewers. A slideshow is a slideshow. Besides filling up the viewers screen, there's not much more you can do to make it different or better (besides having great images of course).

Oh yeah, you could try editing a little bit. There's no photographer working today that can hold a viewer's attention and deliver lasting impact throughout a fifty image slideshow (created from a few hours shooting). Editors, your job is to get the best images possible, and then edit them in a meaningful way. Not to throw-up ever image that you possible can, as fast as you can.

For those publications that insist on regenerating ads for each image on your slideshow, shame on you. The market will eventually punish you for this.

There's more to write on this subject. I promise to do it soon, but my flight is boarding.

One more thing that doesn't work. You know that new body imaging machine that the TSA is trying out? I gave it a go today. Now, not only do you still have to remove all the metal items from your clothing, but you also have to remove all paper and plastic items as well.

How does that make sense?

I mean, even the fact that there will soon be bootlegged, naked images of me and my fellow travelers on the internet as soon as the system gets hacked (or perhaps a Freedom of Information request gets approved) doesn't make it any better.