It’s “Friday,” the fifth and final day of the seven-day set of 24-hour days (“week”) during which humans located in much of the Western hemisphere are expected to engage in productive labor. But if you’re a photojournalist, this expectation is increasingly untenable! It’s no secret that journalism is a fool’s errand these days, and of the news media’s endangered classes, none have been harder hit than photojournalists. The Chicago Sun-Times made headlines in May for laying off its entire staff of photojournalists, but the situation is the same globally, where the proliferation of digital images (among other industry cataclysms) has made employing actual photographers economically precarious.
To highlight journalism’s visual plight, yesterday’s edition of the leftist French newspaper Libération ran with blank placeholders instead of images. In a lyrical editorial accompanying the issue, Brigitte Ollier explained the decision:
“A visual shock. For the first time in its history, Libération appears without photographs. In their place, a series of empty frames that create a rather uncomfortable silent space: it’s blatant, there is a lack of information, as if we had become a silent paper. Without the sound, without this little interior music that accompanies the gaze.” (translation by the author)
The issue, which was timed to coincide with the opening of the annual fair Paris Photo, does not represent the first foray into symbolic gestures by a French publication in recent years. The proudly “irresponsable” (irresponsible) weekly Charlie Hebdo, best known for periodically trolling France’s poor and marginalized Muslim minority with “blasphemous” cartoons, once commented on censorship and provocation by publishing a blank cover labeled “Journal Responsable” (responsible journal).