Reflections on a diminishing craft

The following is adapted from a piece I wrote in 2014 for the NewsLeader’s annual issue of best photographs from the previous year. It was an issue I looked forward to producing as every page was devoted to showcasing my work. It was also an opportunity to reflect on the role images play in telling the community’s stories.

Mario Bartel photographer photojournalist storyteller communicator
MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER The signage for a new condo development at Station Square brightens an otherwise drab day on Wednesday. The cloudy, showery weather is expected to persist through the weekend.

When I came out of journalism school, I was determined to tell stories with a camera.

I’d gone into journalism school four years earlier because my high school teachers said I could write; working for a newspaper seemed a pretty good way to get paid regularly to write.

But during the course of my education I decided I wanted to make the camera my storytelling tool of choice.

Photographers seemed like the cool guys in the newsroom, with their expensive cameras and lenses, the mysterious darkroom where they disappeared at the end of every shift, then reappeared hours later with stacks of fantastic images as if by magic.

Photographers can’t sit in the office and reconstruct events by making phone calls.

Photographers don’t get to hang out in the warmth of press boxes or work rooms. They have to be on the sidelines, lens pressed to the glass at the hockey arena, down in front at the political event.

Mario Bartel photographer photojournalist storyteller communicator
Let’s face it, Derek Corrigan will never be on the cover of GQ magazine. But this is his second election-night appearance in my yearly photo reviews. I spied this young man getting his cellphone ready as I beckpedaled in front of the mayor upon his arrival at his victory party. I had a feeling I knew what was about to happen, so reframed to be ready for it. He didn’t let me down.

Of course that also means photographers have to endure the rain and cold, jostle for space with other photographers and TV camera operators, have to dodge careening football players.

Photographers climb things or crawl under them to get the best angle. They get dirty. Sometimes they even put themselves in peril; early in my career a photo call to shoot a preview for an upcoming air show ended when the vintage plane from which I was shooting crash landed in a field short of the runway after its engine quit.

But at the end of those sometimes harrowing days, you feel like you’ve been a part of the news; you’ve lived it in a small way, rather than just observed it. And hopefully the photos you took convey part of that experience to readers.

Digital technology has changed the way photojournalists work and thinned the numbers who still get to do this work. It’s changed the perception of the work they do.

But one thing hasn’t changed. Photographers still can’t take pictures from a desk, over the phone. They have to be there.

For a portfolio of some of my favourite storytelling images in New Westminster and Burnaby, click here.

One thought on “Reflections on a diminishing craft

  1. Pingback: Cutting into journalism’s quick is a cut too far – MARIO BARTEL

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