Tara Pixley wrote about the need for more visual journalists and editors of color in an article for Nieman Reports that featured Everyday Africa, a Pulitzer Center education partner. Pixley explains that photo editors and photographers are curators of knowledge, discusses how they shape the visual media world in their own image, and makes the case for the consequential importance of inclusivity, equity, and diversity of photographers and editors in producing stories.
"While photographs that grace the pages and websites of American news media are filled with images of black and brown people whose struggles for racial equality and civil rights are constant media fodder, those behind the images rarely share similar identities and experiences. Brent Lewis, senior photo editor of ESPN's The Undefeated, says recognizing there is a problem is the first step. "Being aware that when trying to cover stories in the vein of black life, you probably should have someone who actually lived it," says Lewis. "You need to have insight from someone who understands that realm." When both photographers in the field and photo editors in the newsroom are primarily white and male, news images will reflect that singular perspective."
Pixley recognizes the growing number of individuals and organizations taking up the task of addressing this truth of visual journalism. She highlights Everyday Africa as one of those organizations. Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill were on assignment together in 2012 when Merrill took a photograph of a quiet moment in an elevator on his phone.
"DiCampo says it later struck him this photo was at odds with the stereotypical images of Africa, unfettered as it was by ideas of poverty, war, and illness.
"We're reporting this conflict story but we used our phones to record daily life," says Merrill. It was that "sort of negative space around this story we were there to report," as he describes it, that spurred a new approach to storytelling for the two."
One of the ways that Everyday Africa addresses nationality and racial disparities among photojournalists is by recording and publishing daily life in Africa. The images of daily life come from the in-between spaces of conflict and disaster that are commonly missed in photography. They depict the everyday news and push back against the exoticizing of African lives.
"Those first images from the duo sought to represent African nations and citizens as both complex and nuanced entities whose lives were rarely depicted in their entirety by traditional documentary photography. Their Instagram account, titled Everyday Africa, grew in popularity, spurring lengthy conversations around the realities of daily life in Africa. "There's a sort of fascinating debate on how outsiders see a place versus how people who live there see themselves," says DiCampo about the commentary surrounding the Everyday Africa Instagram images. "We're still sort of on this contextualizing, broadening, transcending stereotypes kind of mission."
By using the democratic space of social media, they could offer alternate modes of understanding places and people who have been historically represented through a singular war-torn narrative, such as Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize-winning image of a starving Sudanese toddler stalked by a vulture."
DiCampo and Merrill also created the African Photojournalism Database (APJD) to connect photo editors with African photographers. With this, they aim to address not only the imagery of African life in the media, but also which photographers produce that imagery.
"The dual powers that photojournalists and photo editors have as eyewitnesses and curators of knowledge cannot be overstated. We shape the world in our own image: our individual understandings of truth and reality, our personal experiences and backgrounds do play into the scenes we choose to capture, how we frame them and whether we find them deserving of public dissemination. There is so much more to the photographs we take, select, and publish than aesthetics and the reality of any individual moment. Rather, each frame captured is a single millisecond in a sociocultural, historical reality that predates subject, photographer, and viewer. As Crowder says, "The lens through which you tell the story matters as much as the story itself.""
Read the full story on the Nieman Reports website.