Monkey see, monkey shoot

Events like the inauguration of new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at Millennium Park yesterday, remind me how important it is to avoid running with the “shuttering herd”.

I watched numerous photographers roped into a mosh pit called a “staging area” as they wrestled with each other for a photograph of United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Funny thing is, the two conversed for several minutes so each photographer had plenty of time to make this meaningless image.

No disrespect to any of these photographers, some who I know well and greatly respect, but it was sort of sad to watch. I’m no better. Here I was photographing the scene from the opposite angle.

Though there was absolutely no chance for a unique image, or even an important one for that matter, photographers were climbing all over each other. Why? Well, for starters, I believe it’s derived from boredom. Because Vice President Joe Biden was attending, security was tight and journalists had to arrive hours before the event to be screened by Secret Service agents and then stake out a position. Then the waiting begins. When you stand around staring at empty seats for a couple hours, you’ll shoot a photograph of just about anything that moves.

Limited options force photographers into this too. Organizers restricted photographers from roaming, and once you were in a staging area, you were told to stay. Of course, there’s no way they could prevent that entirely but many photographers cooperate out of fear of losing their spot or being kicked out of the event entirely.

Nerves play a part as well. Some photographers feel pressure when covering events like this. I’m sure the “I better shoot this or my editor will ask me why I don’t have it” thought crossed the minds of some photographers there. Competition feeds into that. “I better get that shot because the photographer from the rival paper is shooting it!” (By the way, I think that might be the best reason NOT to shoot a photograph!)

Possibly the biggest reason for this hysteria over such a simple photograph, though, is the Internet. Maybe we can blame Al Gore. Before the digital age, there was a need for just a few images for the print product, with an emphasis on quality not quantity. That need has since morphed into a need to make a bazillion images for online galleries designed to produce page views and precious little online advertising revenue.

I don’t know many photographers who won’t admit that this mentality has done significant damage to the profession. The gross product is completely watered down and photographers now seem willing to lose a limb (and their dignity) to get a photograph 300 other photographers already shot.

The Chicago Tribune loaded a gallery of 72 photos of Emanuel during the inauguration weekend. Not to be outdone, The Chicago Sun-Times had 132 photos in a gallery from the hour long event. Most are redundant. I’m not envious of a single image I saw. My photographs from the event are no better. It leaves you wondering what it’s all worth and makes you question where the herd really is running. Wherever it is, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to go there.

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