For a while now, photojournalism has been big news. Various worldwide photo competitions and the famous World Press Photo exhibition generate important conversations, for the public as well as for photographers. This curation of images allows us to see what we are, and what we want to become as world citizens. When a picture tells a story that reflects an issue we often neglect, it can become news. BR sat down with Bogdan Dinca, founder of Documentaria.ro, an online photojournalism platform that has already attracted the crème de la crème of Romanian snappers, to learn more.
What is Documentaria and how did you start it?
Documentaria began in December 2016 as a platform for visual journalism. The project publishes a series of photos from the best Romanian photojournalists, supported by drawn data (infographics) and texts by journalists and specialists from European institutions and universities on our website, Facebook and Instagram pages. In a few words, it is content that seeks to meet high quality standards, without being elitist. We want to grow with correct information, shown in documentaries that can reach many people, regardless of their education or social status. In addition, we try to make it visual through visuals, through the language that we all speak, using empathy and objectivity, without judging or bitterness.
Like any idea, Documentaria needed time and help to take shape. After more than half a year of searching, I found support from the European Commission representation in Romania. They helped us to disseminate information from the country report that the European Commission issues annually about Romania.
Who is the team behind the project? How did you make the selection?
Documentaria is going to be an open project and we welcome any valuable contribution that meets the standards I mentioned. So far, we have published photo reports by Ioana Moldovan – “A countryside doctor”, which was further published on The New York Times’ photojournalism blog. Another team member is Ioana Cirlig, whose photos have been exhibited in galleries in London, Venice, Amsterdam and New York. Adrian Catu is another, known for his numerous photo reports published in National Geographic and NG Traveler, as is Mircea Restea, who has 16 years of impressive experience. In addition, Andrei Pungovschi, an AFP collaborator with numerous works in the international media, and George Popescu, who’s been published in Der Spiegel, L’Express, CNN, Vice and Esquire among others, work with us. Our team also includes Andreea Retinschi, who has had numerous exhibitions, and Alexandra Dinca, PhD in Anthropology and initiator of another documentary project – dobruja.ro. The texts are written by specialists such as Vintilă Mihailescu (Visiting Professor of several universities abroad) and Valeriu Nicolae (Council of Europe) and journalists who understand their topics, such as Sorana Stanescu of Decat o Revista; Vlad Odobescu, winner of several scholarships and prizes in journalism, with articles published in USA Today, Washington Times and Global Post; and Victor Cozmei and Dan Popa from the Romanian news website Hotnews.
How do you comment upon the current situation of the Romanian press in terms of photos and photojournalism?
I’m not a specialist, but it seems that the entire journalism scene is suffering in Romania (and beyond) and photojournalism is no exception. In an attempt to survive, traditional media focus on sensationalism and, too often, reality is reconstructed in the interests of the time and without research or objectivity, even though these are essential attributes in the work of every photojournalist. There are several initiatives in online journalism trying to remedy this, but resources are limited. The public, with easy access to a huge amount of information, naturally tends to choose the path of simple, quick-to-judge facts, with no time for details. I therefore do not believe that the media should produce only what “sells” quickly and abandon any mission to educate and inform. Otherwise, we enter into a spiral from which we cannot exit. I do not think we need to reinvent how to do journalism; on the contrary, we should encourage the ethical principles on which this craft was built.
The essential role, in my opinion, is played by potential investors, people and companies willing to invest money, who need to understand that a misinformed and uneducated society can only be weaker, and more vulnerable. And this will influence, sooner or later, the decisions, the number of consumers and their purchasing power.
How do you choose the subjects presented on www.documentaria.ro?
We want to build in time a visual archive of today’s Romania, looking at the education and health systems, people and society, infrastructure and taxation, culture and traditions. We cannot understand why something does not work unless we understand the broader context. I have tried, therefore, to choose as diverse topics as possible and we hope next year to put just as many “bricks in this building”.
We’re seeing more and more shocking photos nowadays. Would you consider the problem of image manipulation an issue of ethics?
I think it depends on our propose. If we just need entertainment, to be shocked or excited, we can produce and consume altered photos, either by the photographer on the spot or using editing programs later on a computer. If we want to understand an issue, we look for those images that are less distorted. For this reason, it is important that professionals be supported in this area; they are the landmarks of ethics, which are greatly needed.
Some media outlets distort reality using editing programs to doctor photos. In your opinion, where is the line between how reality is photographed and Photoshop? Who takes responsibility for it? The photographer or the editorial staff?
The altered photos were in recent years a series for the post-truth era in which it is said we now live. We increasingly see hundreds or thousands of images per day in our news feed, and we have a natural tendency to believe what we see. Maybe we should ask how distorted our perception of reality is if we don’t invest in the professionalism of those who build it. I think everyone has the responsibility to restore truth and avoid manipulation, from the photojournalist to the editor, the public to those who invest in mass media. It’s a puzzle to which each piece contributes in order to build the big picture.
What do you have in store for this year?
We are at the beginning and we have big plans. In the coming weeks, we will try to find the best way to speak to the public, using these stunning visual resources that we have. This year, we also plan to produce more video content, podcasts and interactive maps. We will focus more on journalism and fact-checking data and produce materials with long-term documented themes that we cannot avoid forever, such as the tremendous discrepancies between urban and rural areas, migration and demographic change. We will also try to gather a community around us using social media, and to increase the level of social participation in this community by connecting to various social causes.