Photographer Stephen Alvarez sent me a link to a film he made for NPR (story here) and he seemed quite sure that “this is where journalism is going because these new cameras open up a narrative that was unavailable just a few years ago.” I wanted to find out more so I asked him a couple questions about it:
Rob: Can you explain why you feel that way?
Stephen: I can now see in film the same way that I saw in stills, I build a story arc the same way that I would in a photo essay, but with movement and sound.
Rob: Video cameras have existed for a long time now, what’s changed?
Stephen: Technologically this is possible now. A photographer and a radio reporter can go into the field and come back with a set of pictures, 3 written essays, 3 radio reports and a film. Just the 2 of us in the field working together sharing the production and reporting. Then of course a great team at NPR working closely with us in post production. I don’t think I could have pulled my end off if I was using a video camera and a still camera. Aesthetically, the stills and video are similar enough that I can switch gears between them. Plus these new cameras will work in almost no light so with my fast canon lenses I can shoot anywhere.
Rob: Do you think video is a better way to tell a story?
Stephen: Economics have pushed me toward making films. The photo essay, the form of journalism that I’ve spent most of my career creating is all but gone. Sure there are lots of places that will publish your pictures once they are made, but almost none that will pay you to do it. I mean the New York Times Lens Blog does not pay anything. I want to keep working in long form journalism, so collaborating closely with a reporter and creating films is one way to do it. I’ve also always felt sort of hemmed in being a photojournalist. Photo essays are wonderful things but they are not so good at providing nuanced information. Film can do that and provide emotional impact.
Rob: Do you think magazines on the ipad should be chock full of video?
Stephen: I don’t see e-magazines chocked full of video. But I do see long form, feature stories moving in this direction. It is a huge amount of effort and it does take close collaboration, something that photojournalists are often loath to do, but the truth is that both Jacki Lyden and I reported a better story in Nashville together than either of us possibly could have separately.