The Chicago Sun-Times, a Tumblr, and the Thoughts of A Wannabe Photog


Last week the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photography staff. Now the Sun is in the process of “training” reporters to shoot with iPhones. Whether this is the future of journalism or just a sign of another great American paper in decline no one knows for sure. Perhaps the best thing to come out of this madness is former Sun photographer Rob Hart’s Tumblr, Laid off from the Sun-Times. Hart has been using his camera to brilliantly document his life sans employment. While this is no way to feed the baby featured in many of the shots, it’s an interesting look at the state of photography in an age where we all walk around with shitty little cameras in our pockets and take pictures of our lives so we can hang them on the wall of the social network du jour for all to see. Granted, Hart’s photos are much better than your average Instagram post. And hopefully Hart, who is also adjunct faculty of photojournalism at the Medill School of Journalism, has other prospects to fall back on.

This makes me think of two things. First, and completely unrelated, was smoking a joint on the porch of the editor of the Sun’s home with his longhaired, bellbottom wearing, Phishhead son about a decade ago. It was the middle of winter and colder than Dick Cheney’s heart. We were huddled between two Corinthian pillars staring a few blocks down the road at the projects, when his parent’s beamer rolled up into the drive early from some suit and tie affair. We darted inside like Black Friday shoppers at Wal-Mart trying to secure the latest video game system for our undeserving spawn. Once inside, the rapid temperature change kicked my high up a couple notches above Mariah Carey’s whistle and rendered me speechless. I recall talking with the editor for some time, though I don’t remember the conversation. I know I nodded a lot. Whenever I find myself in such a position, which I try to limit to the best of my abilities, I find it easier to play the attentive listener. I smile occasionally. I laugh – but not for too long— at whatever everyone else deems funny. Typically I don’t trust the reactions of strangers to align with my own. But moments like this are not optimal to assert one's self as a maverick. Best to keep my scattered thoughts at bay. What I do remember distinctly was the swirl of antiques on the wall behind the editor and the fear that if I fled to the bathroom, which I desperately wanted to do, I may never return from the depths of his three story mansion. Somehow I escaped with only a scathed sense of self. It's moments like this one that solidified in me early on that I would never cut it as a pothead. So yes, at the mention of the Chicago Sun-Times this hazy moment surfaces along with random ponderings of how the hell the late great Roger Ebert could give Titanic a thumbs up.

The other thing that this brings to mind is the fact that as I set out on my first foray into international reporting as a writer, I’ll also be shooting a ton of photos and videos. I’m trying to learn how to quickly set my aperture and shutter speeds, while also being able to change out lenses as I run to seek cover. Where I’m going should be safe. Though a little preparation for any situation one may stumble into on the edge of a war zone is definitely a good thing. And if I come under shelling I don’t think running is necessarily cowardly; I’m no Tim Hetherington. I’ve also never been in such a situation so I have no idea how I will react. I would like to think I would stand firm and do my job. I guess it’s at that moment I’ll know whether I’m a writer or a photojournalist.

Which makes me think, could Tim Hetherington have done what he did using an iPhone? As it stands now, until we can adjust the aperture and shutter speeds on an iPhone, as well as zoom 300mm without any degradation to the image – I don’t think so. Not to mention the ascetic eye a first-rate photographer needs to accurately capture the relevant emotions that arise for only an instant and then collapse underneath the necessary actions of a moment. I’m no Instagram hater; it has its place. But photography is an art, as is journalism. The future is changing and lets face it, we’re all Big Brother. That said, I’d like to think journos and photogs have a necessary place in the 21st century. That may very well just be my selfish desire to have a future doing what I love. If that’s the case, upon my failures may I learn to love again.

Overall, I suppose in my view what would really be optimal for all of us in this evermore-integrated world is if we learned to love journos and photogs again. That way citizens can go back to the safety of taking pictures of their kids, cats and food, and us crazy bastards can get work doing something other than putting together Buzzfeed lists.