Reproduction of the cover of the 19/01/2023 edition of the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo
Reproduction of the cover of the 19/01/2023 edition of the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo

Every photo is political. There are no images or naive looks. There is the historical image, the context and the look of the period. 

The debate that took over the social media regarding the image (I don't define it as a photograph on purpose) by Gabriela Biló, published in layer of the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper had already been ready to explode for a long time.

Gabriella's image Biló is not the first and will not be the last to create controversy. With that said, it is important to emphasize that we strongly disagree with the attack that the photographer has been suffering on social networks. This type of offense is unacceptable, as is the violence shown.

We must reflect, however, on what could have created such an impact on the publicized image: the role of photojournalism and its function in creating story readings has been left aside. No image is univocal or has only one interpretation, but the decoding of its codes depends on the socio-historic moment experienced. 

If it is true that photojournalism or journalistic photographs have always been manipulated (we could have a list of photographs that falsified history) and that photomontage was widely used by artists and published in magazines, it is also true that not everything published in the media is photojournalism. In addition, these images – without making them innocent – ​​were within a historical time and a restricted circulation and not wide open and circulating through social networks.

Photojournalism, however expressive it may be, has its norms, one of which is newsworthiness, as well as ethical rules that are included in most editorial manuals – if anyone reads them. In contemporary photojournalism – which started in the late 1990s and is often supported by photo editors (when they existed) – this search for “creative expressiveness” was often stimulated as a new form of language; was not. From then on, this “creative” aspect was strengthened with the sole function of creating discussions and not debates. 

In what socio-historical moment is the publication of the aforementioned image? That of a troubled election and the coup attempt that took place on January 8, in addition to the resurgence of fake news and the feeling of being deceived and vilified by the news or the lack of it. That is, there is no more inappropriate time. Already in 2017 “fake news” was elected the word of the year by international dictionaries and since then it has become a common word in all conversations.

On the other hand, in recent years (which coincide with the pandemic) photojournalism has resurfaced in its fundamental role in trying to restore the order of events. On the other hand, we find a whole “TikTok generation” that uses the image without knowing it and that paradoxically cannot interpret it, therefore lives it literally. This is where the image becomes dangerous.  

The strangeness of Biló's image is also in the caption that seeks to explain – it is not known for whom – multiple exposure. Empty concepts for most people. It's not about using techniques, but it is a matter here of directing thought towards something that did not actually exist. Manipulate a photograph is not using image editors, it is changing its meaning. The creative choice is in the grammar you use to present a fact and not in its distortion. Every journalist – and, yes, the photojournalist is first and foremost a journalist and not an artist – is indeed responsible for what he makes public and cannot exempt himself by saying that each one interprets as he wants. Do not. There is an intrinsic credibility in those who look for certain media to inform themselves. 

When the journalist becomes a character in the news he is looking for, inserting himself through videos, selfies and jokes, transforming everything in memes – which is not humor but alienation – we are treading on somewhat dangerous ground. The aesthetics of social networks are astonishing, which are lightly imposed on all areas of knowledge without due reflection.

Saying that journalism has become entertainment is outdated in a society that treats everything as a spectacle. This discussion was much talked about by the much quoted Susan Sontag, who creates a division between the aesthetic and the political, and  by the French post-structuralist school, which disdains documentary, journalistic photography, the idea of ​​authorship. In fact, the idea of ​​authorship or the recognition of the author presupposes accountability.

As researcher Ariella Azoulay states: “Creation or imagination are not the opposite of politics”. Yes, there is a political intention in the image released by FSP along with a text that leads to a reading of the image. 

The moment of publication of this image was sad, but who knows from this controversy a new good debate and reflection on how we are building our history from journalism and that we return to respecting the factual truth of events.

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