Monday, March 23, 2009


This quarter of school has provided me with a lot to think about, photographically speaking.  I spent a majority of my time photographing or thinking about photography in general which has led me to come to some tough questions and even tougher answers.  Being on spring break is giving me a chance to finally sit down and gather my thoughts.  I feel that this post went from a series of personal thoughts to a something important that I am eager to discuss with others.

It sprung into necessity after presenting my "final" project in class.  To make a long story short, our "final" presentation was a simple click, click, click, slideshow where you were somehow supposed to explain your whole project in less than two minutes.  

I spent about three months documenting a group of homeless people in Columbus who gave me the best access that I could have ever asked for.  They have shown me and told me some things that I will never forget.  And from this, I have learned to so much that it saddens me to limit my experiences and revelations to a two minute slide show that barely even scratches the surface of their role in the story, much less, my role in producing it. 

My frustration stems from the thought of working so hard to tell a good, solid story only for it to be show in quick succession to other photojournalism students.  However, my unfulfillment with the situation is actually a realization that I have started to embrace the role as a photojournalist rather than a photography student.  I feel that my work is no longer for class or grades.

But this feeling of discontent is hard to point a finger at.  My professor isn't to blame because she only has two hours to show all twenty something student's projects.  So then where do I go to have my work, and more importantly, my subject's story be told and seen?  Ever since getting into college, I have been pounded with the same notion that the photography business is going down and there's no saving it.  So does that mean there aren't people out there who would be interested in seeing what it's like for homeless people to live on no income and in weather that is below zero?  And by people, I mean non-photographers too.  Or is it a seen-it-0nce-and-that's-enough siutation?  Or a it-doesn't-affect-me-so-why-should-I-care?  This exact conversation is running dry as I'm sure countless photographers have been trying to find the solution.

I have been reading Letters To A Young Poet by Rilke which discusses the motives for creating.  He stresses that the reason one ought to create, whether it be poetry, painting, drawing, etc, is for personal growth and expressions.  It shouldn't matter who sees it.  I agree with him only so far when it's applied to photojournalism.  While Rilke's message of personal satisfaction has been constantly running through my mind, it comes as a contradiction.  It is hard to tell people's story and get satisfaction from not showing the frames.  Praise, compliments, and popularity are what Rilke advises to write off as unnecessary, but it becomes complicated when the end goal of photojournalism is for the photographs to be seen by others.

So then what exactly is the motive for being a photojournalist?  This question has been tossing around in my head for a while, especially when the childish, "but why?" is thrown at every possible answer.  I can't account for anyone other than myself because I assume that most answers are extremely varied.  

For myself and for now, I have come to think it is a combination of personal and humanistic reasons.

Personally, the camera has leant itself to getting me into some really intense and eye opening experiences, as well as some just plain out fun times.  What other major, or profession for that matter, allows you to spend whole weekends with complete strangers on a small island in Scotland and then turn around and spend the night with homeless people in the dead of winter?  All of these situations, I would like to believe, have helped shape my view of human interactions, emotions, and people in general.

But more importantly, I think my goal of using my photographs to help increase understanding in the world is what really counts.  Saying that I want to tell people's story just isn't a good enough explanation for me.  It's hard to explain or expand upon, but I believe that there's something to be said about the camera aside from its incredible ability to stop time.  What is it about certain photographs that really resonate with you?  I believe it's the viewer's ability to truly relate to it.  Whether it's a pretty sunset that makes you feel happy because it reminds you of a past vacation or it's a picture of a starving child during a famine that reminds you how vulnerable and fragile human life is.  I doubt that these relations are this precise, but on some level, they have to be.

With that said, my goal has been shaped into trying to find situations and photograph them so that the viewers may be relate and better understand the story.  To show images and create a sense of compassion, understanding, and respect in others is all that I can possibly aspire to achieve. 

1 comment:

dan matrka said...

Epic Roh, Just Epic.....

About Me

My photo
James Roh is a photojournalist based out of Salt Lake City, Utah with a passion for story telling and outdoor photography. He is currently a staff photographer at the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah where he documents daily life in Utah County. When not on assignment, James can be found out wandering around in the mountains sniffing out the best powder stashes, single track, and hiking trails in Utah. With a Bachelor of Science in Photojournalism degree from Ohio University, James specializes in documentary photography but is capable of all photographic styles including weddings, portraiture, lifestyle, commercial, editorial, and event coverage. He is available for freelance work throughout the American west. For all inquiries please feel free to contact him at James @ or directly at +1.614.425.1240.