Friday, 29 October 2010

Journalism Now - Emile Zola

Photojournalism: 19th century origins / Emile Zola

Before exploring photojournalistic patterns and trends of the 19th century, it's worth establishing what photojournalism truly is. Essentially, it is the art of capturing a moment in time and crafting a story through the use of photographs. A true photojournalist, therefore, has the ability to capture a significant historical moment in time, using pictures that communicate to their audience exactly what took place. Many individuals look at a successful photojournalist the same way in which they would an accomplished artist. Emile Zola, a famous French political journalist and amateur photographer, famously stated: “I am an artist. I am here to live out loud”.

Emile Zola, who was born in 1840, made a significant impact on the world of Journalism with his open letter titled “J'Accuse”. The letter, addressed to the President of France FĂ©lix Faure, discussed the events surrounding the controversial conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an artillery officer pronounced guilty of treason. Zola's open letter ends in a series of blunt accusations, explaining that, in his opinion, Alfred was an innocent man. He writes: “I accuse the first council of war of violating the law by condemning a defendant with unrevealed evidence”. Zola's 'ignited protest', historians argue, spurred such a degree of public debate at the time that no other article published since has had the same effect. Before long, his open letter became one of global interest, leading to changes in both law and society as a whole.

As well as contributing to the world of political journalism, Zola was also a keen photographer. For him, there was one subject in particular that he loved to photograph – his family. There are a number of reasons why Zola's collection of photographs are so valuable, but primarily it is the fact that around the time they were taken the concept of amateur photography was yet to catch on. Incredibly, Zola was thought to have taken around 7,000 pictures in total.

Towards the end of the 19th century, technological advancement had a huge role in shaping photojournalism in the way in which we see it today. The arrival of technology such as roll film, smaller cameras, quicker lenses and portable light sources helped photographers to capture the pictures they had envisioned. With these new tools at their disposal, photographers could take pictures in areas which were previously impossible to shoot in. Locations with minimal light and subjects in fast movement could now be captured with ease, giving photojournalists the opportunity to capture the world with greater detail.

The halftone printing press process, which produced photos in full tonal range, completely altered the way in which photographs were printed. Prior to the arrival of the printing press, photographs could not be transferred directly onto a printed page. Magazines and other publications eventually took full advantage of the printing press, of course; using the technology to publish photographs reproduced to a particularly high standard. The Canadian Illustrated News, for example, is reported to have been the first publication to print halftone images.


1) 'Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach' – Kenneth Kobre
2) 'Chameleon Translations'
3) UGA Law


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