Pictures that tell a thousand stories
This month, the Barbican opens an exhibition of great eyewitness photographs chosen by the NS
Almost from the day I went on the road as a newspaper correspondent in the 1960s, I worked with photographers. We were a team, often assigned to places of upheaval, but also to peaceful streets, the sinews of people's lives, to ask ordinary people to tell their extraordinary stories in words and pictures. This was a new kind of reportage, pioneered in postwar Britain by Picture Post, following Life and Look magazines, whose essays allowed pictures and words to complement each other and the meaning of both to speak to the reader.
Great photographers are both story-tellers and truth-tellers, going against the consensual versions of events, such as the illusions of "booming" economies and "smart" wars. This is not to suggest that a photograph says it all. On the contrary, words are often vital to draw out the narrative and the intrinsic mysteries of documentary photographs. The two forms serve each other, and my best work, I believe, has been produced in harness, and comradeship, with some of the great photographers of my time. As media technology has advanced and become "global", so journalism, especially photojournalism, has become increasingly parochial, prurient and politically safe.
The great documentary form, the still photograph, has become largely a fashion and fame vehicle, answering to the incessant demands of the market. As for people's true lives, these are deemed unprofitable and of minimal interest. There remain many outstanding exceptions to this. By honouring the work of some of them, I would like this exhibition to be a rallying cry for the renewal of photojournalism as the first draft of people's history that journalism ought to be.
"Reporting the World: John Pilger's great eyewitness photographers" is at the Barbican Gallery, London EC2, 26 July-30 September. A book of the same title, from which this introduction is taken, is published by 21 Publishing Ltd (£12.99)