Journalism vs. Art

by Todd Smith on January 22, 2009

Here’s some food for thought. The week of December 18, 2008 I wrote a newsletter (no longer available on my site) and blog post about Lafayette French Pastry shop in New York City.

Since that time, two people have visited the shop and have had unpleasant experiences. They were both good enough to leave their feedback in the comment section of the blog post.

This brings up an interesting question for me. Am I a journalist or an artist? For me a journalist’s duty is to dig deep enough to see more than one side of a story, whereas an artist tends find what inspires him and glamorize it. But what happens when the artist doesn’t look deep enough? There’s a fine line between seeing the best of any situation and misleading people who follow what you say.

With Lafayette French Pastry, I noticed that business was not too good. I noticed that there seemed to be a lack of freshness in the decor, though I didn’t see anything that outright bothered me, like the racist cookies mentioned in the comments section.

But maybe I should have looked more deeply. Maybe I should be more careful about where I find my inspiration, especially if it’s a shop I’m photographing. Still it’s a question, though, for me. How much research should I do when photographing? If you look deep enough you can find mud everywhere.

Photos glamorize. That’s what they do. But I am slowly realizing that there’s a power in an image that can’t be ignored. People go and visit what I shoot. And with power comes responsibility. In a very real way, I’m promoting what I glamorize. I guess I have to be more careful what I choose.

What do you think? What is my responsibility? Do you have similar situations in your work or life?