In discussing photography as “art,” we are speaking of aesthetics —the nature of beauty and why beauty affects us so deeply. Aesthetics can be thought of as a system of relationships between the creator, object and viewer. The goal of the creator is to make a meaningful connection between the visual form (the object) and the viewer. The creator hopes to convey meaning through the object. In regard to photography as artistic medium, the artist has creative license with the subject. Thus, the artist can choose to capture reality as it is (i.e. Henri Cartier-Bresson and “the decisive moment”) or create his/her own version of reality (Andy Warhol).
In discussing photography as “fact” in the context of journalism, we are speaking of photos as story-telling devices. Just as words can do, photos have the ability to convey information. And, in fact, research has shown that photos in the context of news can be remembered over time and in such a way that words cannot. Photos also have the ability to convey intense emotion in a news story—especially when considering violent or graphic images. But just as with words, in the context of journalism, journalists and editors must strive for accuracy and balance when taking and including a photograph with a story. However, what we must be extremely cautious of today (especially within the mass media) is thinking that photography always captures the “truth.” Even if a photojournalist is striving for objectivity, what comes out of the camera is always a “version of the truth.” For more detail on ethical issues related to photojournalism review the National Press Photographs “Code of Ethics,” which can be found here: https://nppa.org/code_of_ethics.
Header photo caption: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s first Leica. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cartier-Bresson%27s_first_Leica.jpg