20 Pages

Toward a new visual culture of the news

Professional photojournalism, digital post-production, and the symbolic struggle for distinction
WithMarco Solaroli

This paper argues that the rise of new digital technologies and new amateur/citizen practices of photographic production have constituted a “short-circuit” that has critically destabilized but also productively challenged professional photojournalism. In this context, the paper focuses on the practice of digital post-production (i.e. digitally “retouching” and “enhancing” photographs), as an empirical prism through which to theoretically discuss wider technological, professional, and cultural shifts that have been affecting news photography over the last decade. In particular, drawing on in-depth interviews with international photojournalists, jury members of press photo contests, and directors of digital post-production labs, the paper analyzes a few paradigmatic case studies of post-produced news photographs that have recently won prestigious professional awards, yet have generated considerable controversies. Through the analysis of the case studies, the paper aims to shed light on the contested construction of aesthetic conventions and professional-ethical standards within digital photojournalism, in relation to (1) the shifting professional ideal of visual news “objectivity,” and (2) the shifting symbolic boundaries between professional and non-professional news photo producers. Finally, introducing the notion of “digital cultural capital,” the paper suggests the theoretical relevance of a (post-)Bourdieusian approach to photojournalism, which frames the conflictual implementation of new digital technologies and the diffusion of new social and material practices as a symbolic struggle for professional distinction within the wider visual culture.