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On November 14, 2013 the French Newspaper Liberation published an edition without photography, leaving blank spaces in the pages where a photo was planned to appear. It created holes of white space in the page. The paper fell visually silent.

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“A visual shock. For the first time in its history, Libération is published without photographs. In their place: a series of empty frames that create a form of silence; an uncomfortable one. It’s noticeable, information is missing, as if we had become a mute newspaper. [A newspaper] without sound, without this little internal music that accompanies sight,” writes Brigitte Ollier, a journalist Libération‘s Culture desk.

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It was disconcerting to see a void in the newspaper format. The edition was run in defense of photography, to highlight how much we take its presence for granted, to highlight how much we could miss its presence in understanding the news and the world. This absence of photography is actually an homage to the photograph. Liberation displayed an undying commitment to photographic excellence by showing us a world without the image for a day. The paper realizes the current situation photography finds itself in today.

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For example:

In May of 2013, the Chicago Sun Times fired its entire photography staff, preferring that its reporters carry iPhones to capture news events.

In November of 2013, The President and Publisher of USA Today says anything he could do years ago with his 4 expensive Nikon cameras can now be done with an iPhone.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo claims there is no such thing as a professional photographer today, and hence eliminates FlickrPro. One might wonder how Mikael Jansson, who photographed Mayer for Vogue Magazine feels about being called an amateur. And you can bet he didn’t shoot her portrait with an iPhone.

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There is no doubt that we are living in a new era of the image. Everyone carries a camera, few people carry film. We don’t wait for film to be processed, we no longer spend hours in a darkroom massaging an image. Well most of us don’t. We are living in a time of oversaturation of photography and sites like Flickr are becoming enormous repositories of uncountable photographs, or tombs of the same. Instagram makes everyone a faux creative. It’s a time of quantity over quality, and this is the point Liberation was making when it removed photography from its paper. The snap shot and the photojournalistic image are two different realities. We are reminded that we all may take photographs, but we are not all photographers.

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  1. Ahdieh Ashrafi

    Dennis, very interesting article. I can relate to this because I am a photographer. However although journalism photography is becoming more common as more people simply use their smart phones to capture events, other forms of photography are needed. For example photography is so useful to transmit emotion without saying a single word. This means photography can be used to demostrate analogies of what are our objectives, problems, solutions, and profiles. This is a powerful tool when it comes to a business meetings for example. As businesses become faster and more efficiente, images will speak louder than memos or reports. Photography will always be a form of visual intelligence.

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    1. Dennis Thomas Post author

      Agreed. That is what made the newspaper’s decision to print the newspaper without images so poignant. They showed the power of the image by taking it away for a day, letting us realize just how much they contribute to our understanding of the world in the journalistic context. The paper just wasn’t as interesting, the encounter of the day’s stories not as informative . . .

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