Why Photography/Photojournalism is an Awesome Career

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 160, ƒ/8, 1/100

This simple photo of Claudio Cesar Aguirre who is helping run a Chicken Coop in San Esteban, Olancho, Honduras helped to get funds for micro loans to help the community change. Now people are living longer healthier lives and are better educated.

Yes there are countless examples of where photos have changed the course of history from the civil rights movement, help to change public opinion on the Vietnam War, help to end the apartheid in South Africa and recently has the public upset about ISIS.

Do you want to make the world a better place to live? If you are a person that sees injustice happening to people and feel people need to do something then this might be the best job you could ever have.

People become doctors, lawyers, social workers, nurses and many other professions to make a difference in people’s lives.

What if instead of being a doctor taking care of patients you were the researcher in pharmacy and came up with a cure for a disease? Think about how your discovery would help more people than you could have ever seen in your lifetime.

What if instead of being a defense attorney you became an elected official and changed policy? You could impact far more than one person at a time.

Being a photographer has that kind of compounded interest impact. You can’t go all over the world and share the story one-on-one, but your photos can. Many of my photos have been seen by literally millions of people. Not all the photos have the impact I wish, but many have and will.

John Howard Griffin having lunch with shoe shine man in New Orleans for his research for the book Black Like Me. photo by Don Rutledge 1959

Over fifty years ago, John Howard Griffin published a slim volume about his travels as a “black man.” He expected it to be “an obscure work of interest primarily to sociologists,” but Black Like Me, which told white Americans what they had long refused to believe, sold ten million copies and became a modern classic. Read more … 

The book Black Like Me had a great deal of impact due to the photos that Don Rutledge made of Griffin traveling the South. This helped to make his claims real. That work had a profound affect on the Civil Rights Movement.

photo by Dorothea Lang February 1936

Another photo still having impact on how we see poverty and the depression.

The photograph that has become known as “Migrant Mother” is one of a series of photographs that Dorothea Lange made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California. Lange was concluding a month’s trip photographing migratory farm labor around the state for what was then the Resettlement Administration. In 1960, Lange gave this account of the experience:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

Spinner in Vivian Cotton Mills, Cherryville, N.C. photo by Lewis Hine

Lewis Hine’s photographs of children working as slave labor in plants was instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States.

“Eugene Richards’s wrenching photographic study of the culture of cocaine in three inner-city neighborhoods gives faces to some of the victims of addiction. It provides a shocking and heartrending picture of the damage inflicted by the drug.”
–Charles Hagen, The New York Times  

“Eugene Richards’s seventh book, Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue, reaffirms his position as the premier chronicler of the dark side of American life he is the true heir to the mantle of the legendary W. Eugene Smith.”
–American Photo

Early in his career Eugene Richards was a social activists that realized the power of the camera to influence change more than he could do alone.
Check out his website to see more compelling stories about our culture. 
Sebastião Salgado is another photographer using photos to make the public pay attention to crisis. One of his books Workers is very powerful imagery that makes you wonder about the progress we have made with technology. Salgado is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. 
He began work as an economist for the International Coffee Organization, often traveling to Africa on missions for the World Bank, when he first started seriously taking photographs. He chose to abandon a career as an economist and switched to photography in 1973, working initially on news assignments before veering more towards documentary-type work. Salgado initially worked with the photo agency Sygma and the Paris-based Gamma, but in 1979, he joined the international cooperative of photographers Magnum Photos. He left Magnum in 1994 and with his wife Lélia Wanick Salgado formed his own agency, Amazonas Images, in Paris, to represent his work. He is particularly noted for his social documentary photography of workers in less developed nations.
Cornell Capa, founding director of the International Center of Photography, introduced the idea of the “concerned photographer” in the mid-20th century and maintained that cameras could catalyze necessary change rather than just preserving an image of the situation that needed it. 
I believe most photojournalists are social advocates at their heart. They care for those who they photograph and share those stories with the world with the hopes that change takes place by the story being told.
Gear needed
One could do a great deal with a smart phone today. They could take photos and then write text to go long with the photos and post them to a blog on the internet and reach the world. Many will choose a better camera and a computer to do this even more effectively to tell stories.
Training Needed
It isn’t enough to have equipment you need to know how to use the gear and how to get the most out of your gear.
Besides technical knowledge of how to use your gear to capture and write your stories you need a deeper knowledge. You need to know the subject like an expert in that field, so that you understand the story enough to know what is the essence of the story that needs to be told.
You need to understand the the techniques of storytelling. This takes a great deal of time to master from a mentor and coach.
You need to have a good understanding of your audience. You need to know how to peak their interest and move them beyond the emotions of laughter and tears to action. 
“Revolution”by the Beetles
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
Do you want to change the world? Then it takes commitment and real passion. Your first step should be to find a workshop or even better a college where you can learn the skills of photography and take courses on the subjects that you want to impact the most.
Don Rutledge had an undergraduate degree in psychology and started work on his masters as well. Dorothea Lang studied art at Columbia University. Hine studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University. He became a teacher in New York City at the Ethical Culture School, where he encouraged his students to use photography as an educational medium. 
Eugene Richards received a BA in English from Northeastern University plus graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were supervised by photographer Minor White.
Salgado initially trained as an economist, earning a master’s degree in economics from the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

Summary

Picking up a camera and just shooting away and posting to social media will not get the results. You need strong images with a storyline to engage your audience. The moral of this blog post is go and enroll in workshops, a college program and plan on your first attempts as part of the learning. To become a master you must put in the time.

All the examples went on for college degrees which helped them prepare to change the world. Go and do likewise.