Assistant Professor Kyser Lough teaches in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications’ photojournalism program and studies visual communication, with an emphasis on photojournalism, as well as solutions journalism. In this interview, Lough discusses the continuing role of photojournalists in an age of ubiquitous imagery, and how he teaches his students to navigate that landscape. Read more about his research here.
How do you describe photojournalism research?
You can think of it several different ways, and the first is looking at the images themselves: What are the images telling us? How are they chosen? What’s being left out? Who is in the image? What kind of effects do these images have on people? That’s a big question surrounding conflict photography especially—we need these photos to see what’s going on, but what kind of toll is it taking on us to constantly see images of conflict?
What we often forget about is there’s a person behind the camera making these pictures, and that person has to physically be there. During the pandemic a lot of reporters were stuck at home; they were calling their sources and having Zoom meetings. The photographers had to go to these places to make these photos. So there are a lot of questions surrounding access and embodiment when it comes to being a photojournalist—how they have to use their bodies in the act of photography, not just to maneuver to make photos but also in negotiating for access to where they need to be.
It’s also fascinating to dig into photographers’ minds and ask about their process. How do they look for things to photograph? How do they decide what, who and when to photograph? When you combine that with talking about access and embodiment, it gives us a deeper look into the images.
As a visual communicator, what your thoughts about how the media world we live in has changed over the last two or three decades?
It’s definitely changed how we think of images. We toggle back and forth between seeing images as pure, unadulterated reality or pure, unadulterated fiction. It’s something we have to consider when we think about modern-day news literacy. In being worried about misinformation and disinformation, we need to really look at images. Part of that is putting the focus back on the image creator and the image owner. Just like we try and vet news sources, we also need to vet image sources and understand that many different things could have happened between an image being captured and us seeing it.
With deep fake video technology and ever more sophisticated photo-editing software, how are we going to determine the truth of an image in the future?
There is fascinating work being done on this right now. Part of it is news literacy and training us to have a healthy dose of skepticism when consuming news. But on the other end, there are computer scientists developing algorithms to analyze and detect alteration in images and video.
From the professional side, there are organizations and people working to prevent it on the creation end. So instead of trying to detect a fake image, it’s about providing a certificate of authenticity: “This image is real.” The Content Authenticity Initiative is probably the biggest one right now, where they are working with Adobe and other folks to essentially create a uneditable chain of edits and history on a photo. You can see the date and time the image was taken, but also see that it was loaded into Photoshop and these different edits were made. If that’s widely adopted—and the problem is it has to be adopted—then we can use that to vet images before they are out there and manipulated.