“In Iraq, the problem was not that we didn’t produce a great image as we did in Vietnam, it was that we made too many.” With one phrase, Michael Kamber sums up the photojournalist’s dilemma in the 21st century, in the wonderful interview conducted by Mathilde Boussion for this issue.
His observation echoes that of two international reporters Florence Aubenas and Christophe Ayad, with respect to the Syrian rebellion “trapped by its images” (Le Monde, 13 June 2013). There has been a slew of deaths online, decapitations on Flicker, simulacra of cannibalism on YouTube, videos of uncontrollable origins and photos that sprang out of nowhere. Bearing witness is an obsession. The new, connected world provides instantaneous dissemination and sustains itself on this promise. Having broken away from the conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, the two reporters from Le Monde describe “an entire country constantly under twenty-one million lenses. […] Everyone plucks anything from anywhere and puts it on line for a profit.” Their conclusion : “This is the great paradox of the Syrian uprising : the more pictures there are, the more truthful they are and the less we see them, the less we believe them.”
The thurifers of “Facebook and Google revolutions” during the Arab Spring explained to us that social networks supplied democracy. Since Syria, they’ve been keeping a low profile. Technology is a means and not an end. While the new tools allow a dictatorship to be contested, they also stoke the fires for build-ups of emotion and fear. Confusion overcomes us, like young Funès, the character in a short story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. A victim of a car accident, he remembers everything without a filter, even the slightest details, which prevent him from truly living.
How do photojournalists fulfil their role as in a digital world in which any photograph can be published, manipulated and duplicated in a matter of seconds ? What kind of collective memory are we constructing when our servers are collecting billions upon billions of photos ? There is obviously no way to turn back now. American physician and futurologist Michio Kaku met three hundred leading academics (The New York Times, 28 november 2013). They described a very near future in which computers will have disappeared because information technology will be everywhere : in our contact lenses, at our fingertips and in everyday objects. These innovations will further multiply the amount of images produced and will impose a “heightened reality”, that oxymoron of the technological world that aims to merge the real and the virtual.
In this chaos, we need points of crystallisation, confrontation and selection. The old hierarchies are no longer valid : it doesn’t matter whether the images come from Flickr, whether they are by anonymous or seasoned photographers, or where in the world they have been uploaded from. They only take on meaning when they pass through the filter of active intelligence, by way of a sharp, informed and critical gaze. We must create the filters of the 21st century, to find other means of making the world intelligible. Such means include places such as the Michael Kamber documentary centre in the Bronx ; festivals such as Visa Pour l’Image in Perpignan ; magazines like Russian Reporter in Moscow ; the countless free and volunteer-based online magazines, such as doc ! in Poland ; the websites of major newspapers, such as the wonderful Lens of the New York Times and LightBox from the weekly Time magazine ; by photography collectives, which are springing up everywhere ; and sometimes by individuals with an experienced eye, such as the Finnish former photojournalist Mikko Takkunen, who indexes the best stories in pictures.
6Mois has joined the ranks of these initiatives that are building a new world, taming it and giving it meaning •
Laurent Beccaria, Patrick de Saint-Exupéry, Marie-Pierre Subtil