The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) will vote at the end of May on seven amendments to its bylaws, including whether to change its name to The Society of Visual Journalists, Inc. (SVJ). The reason for the proposed change is to acknowledge how the industry and NPPA membership have evolved over the past 50 years. The current name “no longer adequately represents the Association or its membership.”
My knee-jerk reaction to this news was to speak out against it; I did not want to lose my old friend the NPPA. My response was fueled by more than nostalgia, though. Like many print photojournalists, I have questioned whether our television counterparts are truly committed to the NPPA’s ethics code.
Print vs. Television Photographers
Many TV photographers routinely set up shots, have subjects “redo” things or pretend to do them because they either missed the shot, want a different angle or want B-roll. I cringe at being equated with videographers who train their subjects to ask “What do you want us to do?” instead of taking the time to allow reality to unfold.
Despite my misgivings, the fact remains that videographers have been part of the NPPA for years. Starting in the late 1990s, I began to notice more News Photographer covers and stories dedicated to that side of the membership; I began to believe they were overtaking the organization. Today, the balance seems to be 70-30 in TV’s favor.
I originally suspected the shift was the result of TV people being elected to the NPPA’s board. But then I realized it was actually the result of print photographers being forced to learn about videography and multimedia storytelling as part of their jobs.
While I am not crazy about this trend, there is no denying the facts. We cannot continue to define ourselves as just “photographers” anymore, because we are now required to be “visual journalists.”
And I began to see why the NPPA name change made sense.
A Fait Accompli
Photojournalists are facing a re-definition of their jobs. With video becoming a part of the lives of both print and TV photographers, we need to address the new work requirements, ethical situations and other challenges we will face. If the NPPA wants to continue to represent the visual media, I agree that it needs to change its name because the term “Press Photographers” is simply no longer accurate.
Of course, those of us who don’t particularly want to shoot video — the ones who wish to remain “just photographers” — will feel left out by this change. I, for one, may quit the organization.
It’s not that I don’t think the NPPA — or SVJ — has an important calling in navigating the new multimedia demands on the visual press. I just prefer to continue to focus on my passion — still storytelling.
Where is the organization for me and others like me? SportsShooter caters to the still photographer, but it is narrowly focused on sports photography. Perhaps we need to form a new organization — one that continues the original focus of the NPPA and promotes the value of capturing powerful still images of real-life moments.
We could call ourselves the National Still Photographers Association, or maybe borrow the abandoned NPPA name and just create a new board focused on the concerns of print photojournalists. If anyone wants to start a new association, you know where to find me.