Both Newton and Taylor recognize a trivialization of horrifying news due in part to the way they are represented through photojournalism. Taylor, quoting from Susan Sontag, explains how, through the bombardment of images, “Atrocity becomes familiar; the repulsive seems ordinary, remote or inevitable,” and that “[Modern] documentary… now serve[s] mainly exoticism, tourism, voyeurism and trophy-hunting.” While there may be merit here, I feel their viewpoint from the turn of the century fails to encompass realities in current photojournalism from the past decade. The exponential growth of the digital and social media landscape has given new range and power to images and photojournalism, and responses have not always been that of apathy, with many being moved to action on key issues.
Where I agree most with Newton and Taylor is in their recognition of photojournalism’s role and potential in humanitarian agendas, which is that it should have some sort of positive bearing on human sensibilities. In depictions of the drug war, the Australian bushfires, and all sorts of recent disasters and humanitarian crimes, I’ve seen the power of thoughtful, purposive imagery in inspiring action and political response from the public. I’ve also seen both the public and the news forget about these issues in a snap. The challenge, I think, is for photojournalists to combat the growing tide of fake news and doctored imagery that reaches less media-savvy audiences, and to sustain the momentum of concern for issues instead of allowing the public to slip back into apathy.