Press photographers are needed to capture the first drafts of history

Hugh Dolan is the author of The Untold story Behind the Gallipoli Landings. In the Australian documentary Gallipoli From Above that aired recently on ABC TV, Hugh Dolan argues that on April 25, 1915 at 4am, the Australians deployed 4,500 men into the darkness. The Turkish defenders were caught off guard when the soldiers captured the Anzac Beachhead (Z Beach), which took 20 minutes.

Six hours later, the Australian war correspondent Charles Bean arrived with his camera. He stepped on the shore, walked along the beach and stopped. Then he turned around to take a photo of the beachhead. The photograph shows only one dead soldier lying on the beach. Bean then documented the Gallipoli landing. This event has been deeply embedded in Australian mythology and culture. Bean’s photos are an important link to Australia’s national memory and history.

C.E.W. Bean’s photos of the Gallipoli landing helped to define the event in Australian imagination. Australian War Memorial

Yesterday afternoon, Fairfax announced a 24 hour strike.

The major cuts made to the photographic departments at mastheads across the country is one of the key issues. Fairfax Media will lay off 30 staff members in the picture department , and Fairfax plans to use more images from Getty Images.

We need to ask, who will record our history in the future? How many Charles Beans can Australia produce now? Will we see another Neil Davis who captured unforgettable images of Vietman War in 1985 and died in Bangkok on the job? Or the sharp insight of Michael Ware who reported from Baghdad in the Iraq War.

Press photographers record the first drafts of history. Is a digital image database on a US server a reliable way to represent Australian visual heritage?

Well, maybe. Two contract photographers were waiting outside Jamie Packer’s Bondi Beach apartment building for Miranda Kerr to appear when they got an unexpected money shot at the weekend.

The photographs told the story of the Packer and Gyngell spat. AAP Image/Paul Miller

The media company of the photographers reportedly earned more than A$250,000 from photos and video footage taken during a good ol’ Australian fight between Packer and David Gyngell . Contractors are doing what many photographers do today, which is to supply images on a contractual basis to digital databases.

A fierce bidding war was raging between several parties who were very interested in the punch-up photos. The story was not really able to take off until News Limited published the images. The story would be boring without photos. Today, footage is important.

In an age when the image is important and everyone has some form of camera on their phone, the press photographer’s livelihood is under severe financial pressure.

Digital technology has changed the way we document and see the world. Citizen journalists with mobile phones and Facebook accounts contributed to the Arab Spring. Ben Lowy’s iPhone photo of superstorm Sandy hitting New York has been published on the Time magazine cover, a world first.

We had only a few views at Gallipoli. Now, we could have all the views with digital devices and the ability to either be at the right place or wrong place at just the right moment. While on patrol, many Australian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan used helmet cameras. I wonder what Charles Bean, who helped to establish the Australian War Memorial will do with this footage. When will this version of the history be displayed?

It is a huge difference between a citizen who happens to stumble across an event on their smart phone, and a photojournalist who decides to be in a certain place at a particular time to capture history. What will it cost us to support this?

The networks have no cost to ask their audience to send in mobile phone photos or video footage. Neil Davis chose to be in the wrong location for the right reason and paid the price with his life.

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