A dear friend who, at one time was the second most important person in the photo department of a major magazine, yes the secretary to the DOP, sent me a lovely email today telling me how much she enjoyed my rants and encouraged me to keep it up.
So here I go...
When it comes to editorial photojournalism there are two basic styles of photography, newspaper and magazine.
Like anything else, both styles have evolved in the way that best suits the needs of their intended market.
Daily newspapers traditionally worked under tight deadlines and were printed on poor quality newsprint. Thus, newspaper photographers would shoot black and white film processed for speed (the mechanics of doing this are probably a more interesting post), not necessarily for quality. Concerns about grain structure, contrast range, or even longevity trumped the overriding need to make deadline.
The deadlines were tough. If you worked at a big morning newspaper that served a large geographical area, the first deadline of the day might by around five in the afternoon. Say you were doing a football game that started at 1 pm that was an hour away from your office, you'd probably just shoot the first half. Drive like crazy. Process your film...
OK here's the recipe. This was used mainly by the wires, but everyone resorted to it at some point. Speed wise, this is probably the best you can do with unpushed Tri-X. Use HC-110 for your developer, mixed hot, say 3 1/2 film cans of it with enough water to fill an eight reel tank. You process at about 100 degrees, for about 3 1/2 minutes. Agitation is tricky, the HC-110 would tend to stay kind of clumped together, plus it exhausted itself quickly. If you didn't agitate enough, you could get really horrible uneven development (I've seen negatives processed this way where you could actually see swirling patterns of different densities on a single frame). If you agitated too much, well your film could end up being a tad bit grainy.
You rinse it real quick, say ten seconds, then dump it into quick fix with constant agitation. The negative should be clear in 15 seconds. If not, your fix is too weak. You now go through each roll and eyeball it against any available light source. If you're doing this properly, fixer is now running down your arm and slowing making its way to your armpit. By the time you're done, the film has gotten a good two minutes of fix, which is technically about right for proper archival processing. Unfortunately, you only have time to wash the film for thirty seconds at the most. After that you dunk it in something called Jet-Dry, which basically displaces the water with alcohol (which dries quickly), and a mild soap (to prevent streaks).
You then pop the still reeled film into a machine that looks like a juiced up hairdryer, which will give you dry film in about a minute per roll.
Start to finish, eight rolls maybe sixteen minutes. Now all you have to do is edit, print and caption.
Note, wire shooters were always up against somebody's deadline somewhere. Newspaper shooters wouldn't always be working under such pressure.
Forgive me, I do like talking about the old days.
The point being, that five o'clock deadline got there pretty fast, and this is how newspaper photography err... developed its look. Even if you did have the time, Ansel Adams type of quality would be lost in newspaper reproduction.
Magazines on the other hand usually printed on a higher quality of paper and had less tight deadlines, basically one a week, instead of seven or eight a day.
With more time, and higher technical requirements, magazines had different needs from photographers. When high-speed color presses became available, the gap between the two branches grew wider, at this point you had newspaper photographers and magazine photographers.
That's the technical side. There's also, for lack of a better word, a philosophical difference. Because magazines were published so much later than newspapers, they normally would do things the local papers didn't. Maybe more conceptual, less newsworthy, or they'd spend more time on a story, whatever, think content that your local newspaper wouldn't or couldn't duplicate.
This content is why people would read their local papers, plus (for example) LIFE Magazine.
So it follows that magazine photography would also be done in a way that newspaper photographers couldn't or wouldn't duplicate.
I was traveling with a presidential candidate a few years back and we were going to THE TONIGHT SHOW. No, not with Johnny Carson, with Jay... I'm not quite that old. Anyway, we got out of the vans and there's a big sign in front of the studio that says, "Artist's Entrance". Immediately one of the wise-guy network cameraman yelled, "All you magazine guys use this door. The rest of you will have to go around."
For better or worse, that's how it is, two different genres, both occasionally capable of doing great work.
Now, as newspapers and magazines continue to die a little more each day, this is basically a "moving the deck chairs while the Titanic sinks" intellectual exercise. I realize that, but still, if the band could keep playing I don't see why I can't.
The problem is this, the gap between what newspapers do and what magazines do should be getting wider, but instead, at this point the two disciplines are almost identical.
Newspapers now have to compete with every news outlet in every market, while continuing to serve their hometown base. Magazines have the same pressures, yet need to keep offering content that they alone can produce.
Certainly, there are examples of people accomplishing this, but mostly this is the exception.
Sadly, this sorry mixed-up state was rewarded in the POY Awards last week, when a wire photographer, and regardless of how many magazine photographers Getty represents, they'll always be a wire service, was named the Magazine Photographer of the Year.
I don't want to take anything away from Uriel Sinai of Getty, but his portfolio was wire and newspaper style work, not magazine style work. This isn't a bad thing, it's just a different thing. Tony Suau, who was awarded second place faced this same criticism twenty or so years ago when he moved from the DENVER POST into the magazine world. He didn't stop winning awards during this time, but he had not yet, in my opinion, found his true photographic voice.
The POY website with all of the winners seems to be a little screwed up right now, but use the link above, look at the three finalists and decide for yourself.
Also, there were a couple of portfolios that deserved recognition that didn't get a thing. In the future, anyone judging a contest please take the time to award honorable mentions. There's no good reason not to, and it can help a person get their work seen a little bit more.
Lastly, yes I did have a portfolio entered and I was out in the very first round. Please don't think this is sour grapes on my part. My long-time agent was actually one of the judges, so I've got nobody to blame but myself for not doing better.
Magazine photographers are almost exclusively freelancers btw. They aren't on salary and don't get benefits like a wire or newspaper photographer. So that's another difference.
But the real difference is this;
Because of the nature of the medium, newspaper photographers look to make images that answer questions. This team won. Number six was the star. This is what he did.
Again, because of the nature of the medium, not because one is better than the other, magazine photographers tend to make pictures that ask questions. What did it feel like to return to China after twenty years and cover an Olympic games there? What does a financial meltdown look like? Will there be a sheriff's deputy searching my house for looters some day?
This is the difference. Like so many other things it's hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.
Just for the record, my agent had to remove himself from the final round of judging because he also represents a photographer who's work was competing for the title. He knows the difference between the two styles. It would have been really interesting to see him articulate this to the other judges on the panel.