Jim Hollander



THE PHOTO BLOG - ONE BEST

I can’t be the first photographer to do this, but for lack of a better title, I’ll call this a “Photo Blog”, as it is a chronicle of what I am doing in the world of photojournalism updated on a daily basis. Since this is a personal website, I’ll have the pleasure of presenting the “One Best” of what photos I shot to whatever audience is clicking-in. This instead of having an editor or even a management team selecting what is to be posted or published, as is the custom in the world’s leading newspapers. This will not be a complete view of the daily story I ‘m covering, but rather a personal favorite from the day’s photographic ‘take’. As for you, the viewer, interested in photography, world events, the Middle East, visual history or photojournalism, I hope you will enjoy the work, the images, the story or the characters, and be tempted to return often to check up on this continuing story, so please bookmark this page and come back.

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When I started in news photography we shot black & white, processed the film by hand, made a print in the old fashioned manner using an enlarger, trays of developer & fixer, and real paper. A sticky-backed paper was used to type, yes, type with a typewriter, a caption that was then applied to the top or side of the photo. The completed ‘picture’ was then wrapped around the drum of an analog transmitter, hooked up to a phone line using banana clips and transmitted or “moved” back to world headquarters. I crossed my fingers and prayed to the Gods of telecommunications for a few photos to get through. It took 12 to 20 minutes per photo. Repeats were common. Multiple repeats were common. When the other journalists were at the bar in Gdansk or eating dinner in Nairobi, we ‘wire’ photographers were in our rooms in Addis Ababa cursing the quality of the local telephone lines, screaming to our editors and repeating our photos into the wee hours. Getting a front page photo published from an international story was not always dependent on the selection of the best photo, but the best one that got through to world headquarters in time for distribution.

This brings up the term, “One Best”. I’m not entirely sure who, where or when it first appeared, but the expression has been is use in the photojournalism world for decades. In simple terms it refers to the task of looking through all the negatives shot on a story and selecting that one picture that would be the first sent. If nothing else got through the “One Best” hopefully would. A good deal of thought went into its selection, as it should, for that photo had to relay the story to potential viewers. Photojournalists had to be thinking journalists.

At world headquarters the photo was viewed by editors, prioritized and transmitted to subscribers around the world where it would land in a newspaper or magazine’s photo department in another 10 minutes. These offices were filled with steel filing cabinets, large scissors, and the stale, lingering smell of photo fixer. The photo editor would be anxiously waiting and watching as the photos arrived one-line at a time on an electro-magnetic receiver. This machine translated continuously modulating analog tones of beep, beep, blip, beep into an electrical pulse that actually burned shades of grey onto a specially coated paper – line by line - until the photo was complete and then was ripped or cut off the receiver. The noise was maddening, like listening to Morse code. A slight glitch in the telephone line and the photo broke up, hence the multiple repeats. The photo editor then flipped through a stack of paper photographs as deadlines approached and picked that ‘One Best’ picture he trusted would relate the news story to the paper’s readers.

I’ve been covering news events in the Middle East since 1983. The first year I produced and transmitted some 40-50 photos a month. Remember these were prints. In the first three months of 2005 I’ve put out close to 600 images. I’ll admit to some over-filing but such an amount does, in a way, represent the broader, multi-faceted view of the ‘story’ that photojournalists are now able to convey to viewers, something impossible twenty years ago. All this thanks to technology. Typewriters no longer exist, and no one has muttered the word ‘analog’ in the past ten years. The world has become digitalized. That translates to ‘faster’. It could infer ‘easier’, ‘quicker’ and ‘better’. It has not, however, made the photo editor’s job easier. He or she now must sit in front of a computer monitor for long hours sorting through scores of photographs that stream in from various agencies each hour, 24-7 from around the world. On an important page-one story, I’d estimate a photo editor these days must view over 150 images to select their subjective “One Best” for publication.

When I traveled to cover a story in the 1980s I carried some 70-kilos of darkroom equipment and supplies, in addition to cameras, film and clothes. Add to that, some years later, another 70-kilo box for a first generation satellite telephone. The 35mm film scanner emerged in the early 1990s, so the enlarger and trays could be left behind – and the typewriter. The photograph became a ‘file’ in a computer, but I still had to develop or ‘soup’ film. Newspapers were aware of and kept up with the new technological changes and were demanding and printing more & more color. We shot color negative film and developed it on the spot – in closets, tents, or in some hut often times with no running water. It’s tricky to keep the developer at a constant 100 degrees F in the desert. So we came up with shortened developing times. In 1997 we threw away the developing tanks as the first digital cameras came on the market. These early professional models cost 14 thousand dollars apiece! Computers got smaller, more powerful and were called “laptops” and we even had a growing choice of off-the-shelf software that fit a photographer’s needs. Still photographers – the new breed and the old timers - had to keep up with the fast changing technology, or perish.

Nowadays, a news photographer shoots with a high-resolution digital camera, carries a slim, insanely powerful laptop loaded with RAM in a small backpack, and transmits the photos back to HQ via mobile telephones right from the story, immediately after making the photos. One can shoot something, retreat to a café, a car or anywhere, power up the laptop and minutes later be transmitting magazine quality, color photographs. These arrive into the agency via ftp servers in 30 seconds, a little longer via an e-mail attachment. Incredible. With mobile satellite telephones or a high-speed sat-modem, a photographer can transmit photos to an agency or newspaper from the middle of almost any desert, jungle or mountain range on Earth…. and check e-mails, surf the Net, and even submit a photo to their photo-blog page! The problem now is finding power to charge all the batteries that keep these gadgets operating. Going into an Afghanistan desert with the US Marines on a ‘POOL’ assignment in 2001 I suggested to the captain in charge of our small group of journalists that the single most important thing we would need would be a generator. We didn’t have one assigned to our unit and, sure enough, after 36 hours we were all ‘dead in the desert’, and could not transmit any photos or stories back to our offices and hence the world’s media outlets. We literally had to beg power from the General who obviously was not overly impressed with the captain’s planning…..

Does the editor still look for the ‘One Best’ to publish? I hope so, and I trust photographers in the field still think and believe in a ‘One Best’ philosophy. Otherwise ‘wire’ photographers are just utilizing their new shiny gadgets to flood the market and boggle photo editors with an overwhelming choice of mediocre visual material.

Footnote: The term ‘One Best’ must be credited to UPI, and specifically to the late Charlie McCarty, a legendary wire-photo editor responsible for motivating many of the world’s top news photographers.

COPYRIGHT © NOTICE: As Regional Photo Manager based in Jerusalem for epa (European Pressphoto Agency), ALL the photographs posted on the Daily Update pages are copyright © epa and cannot be used in any way or in any media, without prior written permission. Please respect this and write an e-mail to me if some usage is requested.





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