August 25, 2016 Last Updated 1:30 pm

Power of photography (and of press photographers) revealed again by events in France, Italy

Some media executives have found the photography department an easy area for cutbacks, with some publications eliminating the entire department on a misguided idea that the prevalence of cameras inside cellphones means there will be no need for the professionals

Images can be powerful things. More than 24 hours after a 6.2 earthquake shook large areas of Italy, images are emerging of people being pulled from the rubble, hope that at least some of the feared dead will be found alive.

Unfortunately, the death toll now exceeds 250, and the fear is that it will continue to rise.


I was working at The Valley Times when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck Northern California. That quake was 6.9 on the Richter magnitude scale, and caused the collapse of a section of freeway known as the Cypress Street Viaduct. Yet the death toll of 63 was far below what we are seeing in Italy where many structures are older.

Photographers from Bay Area newspapers, including our own which then included the Contra Costa Times, spanned out to document the damage and record the rescue efforts. None of the newspapers that were part of the group I worked for then still are in existence today. They have been shuttered, or merged with others, because they were sold off to a company that only knows how to survive by constantly cutting expenses.

In 2013, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire staff of photographers. Two years later Sports Illustrated did the same. Fortunately, many other news organizations have decided that eliminating the photo staff is a cut just too deep.

If there is a need for proof of the power of news photography no better proof exists than what is going on in France. This week images were published of Nice police confronting a woman on the beach who was wearing a burkini. Those images brought to the foreground the debate in France over appropriate attire, and can the government force Muslim women to dress, or rather undress, to national norms.

But leaving that debate aside, the images also bought scorn to the city police, and to any police force used to force citizens to adhere to a dress code.

It did not go unnoticed that the French police were doing much the same work as similar forces in Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries. This was not lost on Christian Estrosi, the President of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the region where the fashion ban is being enforced. And so Estrosi now wants a ban on the publication of photos showing this law being enforced.

“I am denouncing what seems like a manipulation that undermines the local police, and puts the officers at risk,” Estrosi said in a statement. “”Already, complaints were filed to prosecute those who spread the photographs of our municipal police officers and those uttering threats against them on social networks.”

So quickly, this ban on the burkini has led to a ban on free speech and freedom of the press.

And there has been some pushback: ““I’m quite firm on this. I don’t think anyone should tell women what they can and can’t wear. Full stop. It’s as simple as that,” – London Mayor Sadiq Khan told The Evening Standard.

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