Now in its 66th year, one of the world's oldest news photo
competitions, "Pictures of the Year International" (POYI), enjoys
new life in the just-opened Annenberg Space for Photography, here in
the backyard of the entertainment industry.
The arresting images tell their own stories: a woman whose face
has been melted by acid, Michael Phelps's hair's-breadth win in the
Beijing Olympics, the aftermath of the China earthquake. At the same
time, the exhibition itself is a good lens through which to view the
swiftly evolving field of photojournalism, say photographers,
educators, and industry analysts.
"We're moving into what I would call a golden age of
photojournalism," says William Snyder, four-time Pulitzer Prize-
winning photographer, who points to the "amazing proliferation of
opportunities for visual storytellers to ply their trade." These
range from self-publishing on the Internet to the explosion of
This may seem paradoxical in an era of newspapers and magazines
downsizing and disappearing "with discouraging frequency," says Mr.
Snyder. At the same time, he adds, the overall culture has become
saturated with visuals. Beyond that, the flowering of reality
television and the overall cultural premium placed on real-time
information has opened the way for a greater appreciation of the
sometimes unsettling realities that lie at the heart of good
photojournalism, he says. "Reality is popular now in a way that it
certainly wasn't in the early days of photojournalism."
Launched in 1944 as an outlet for the best war reporting on the
home front, the contest that eventually became POYI was born at the
University of Missouri. While questions about photographic
authenticity may seem to be more acute in the digital era where even
the most casual amateur can easily alter pixels, the notion of
telling stories through photos has been dogged by questions about
human artifice from the inception of photography.
"There have been lingering questions about the authenticity of
Civil War photographs and World War II concentration camp
photographs just because the circumstances seemed unbelievable,"
says Pamela Venz, associate professor of art at Birmingham-Southern
College in Alabama.
Particularly now, in an era of self-publishing and so-called
"citizen" journalism, with everyday folks feeding the news cycles
with impromptu snapshots, today's credibility issues revolve around
the idea of "experts," says Douglas Rea, professor of
photojournalism at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. …