Claire O’Neill, Photo Editor of NPR Picture Show
by Adriana Teresa
Claire O’Neill edits and writes for NPR’s Picture Show blog—a blog devoted to photography and the visual arts – with content ranging from news photojournalism to historical ephemera to fine art. It’s a showcase for NPR-produced multimedia and work by NPR’s staff photographers, as well as a forum for education and discussion.
Adriana Teresa: What is contemporary photography within your forum?
CN: As our world digitizes, it seems that the camera is becoming more of an artistic tool than a way of capturing reality. Of course it’s a generalization, but because manipulation has become so easy, we even see it in photojournalism. And that can be controversial from a news standpoint.
Manipulation may be a trend—but it’s photography with a story, a point, a voice, a personality that stands the test of time. “Contemporary,” after all, can mean this minute, this year, this past decade or the past 50 years. The work of Cartier-Bresson can be just as contemporary, relevant and compelling as that of today. It depends on how we situate ourselves.
AT: What do you look for in a photographic series or a photographer today that you didn’t look for three years ago?
CN: Nothing more, nothing less, really. Quality content and technique—and originality.
AT: What is the goal of your online forum in regard to photography? Why is this your focus?
CN: To democratize the conversation about photography and make it approachable. This means digging up historical photos and looking at exhibitions; talking about books and contests and trends; featuring (and inspiring) established and emerging photographers while—most important—engaging an audience. And not taking ourselves too seriously.
There’s a lot to look at and a lot to learn. Our goal is to foster understanding and to create a more informed public. The image provides access to a world that sounds and words can’t always capture, and that’s what we’re exploring.
AT: What would you say is the most significant progression in photography today?
CN: Maybe the word isn’t “progress.” Was the transition from Kodachrome to the 5D—or the switch from prints to thumb drives —progression? It’s change, and we run with it. I think the most important thing in photography today—certainly the most important skill a photographer can have—is adaptability.
In more concrete terms, digital offers greener processes and a more affordable price tag, which is worth celebrating. It means more and more people can now share in the art we all love. Which is why we’re all here, right?
AT: How important is having an online presence for photographers today as a resource to share their work?
CN: It depends on what a photographer hopes to accomplish. For a news organization, online presence is vital. Freelancers are now a lifeline for media outlets that have lost photography staff. We’re often on the lookout for photographers, but if we can’t easily review a portfolio, it’s on to the next. That’s news. As for fine art or noncommercial, though, that’s not for me to say! If anything I’d like to think that there are no rules in that realm.
AT: What parameters would you like to transcend?
CN: Online journalism is a fluid and evolving way of disseminating information, and so is photography. There’s a certain mind-set that digital content is disposable, insignificant, or inferior to print. And that’s a tough trend to overcome. But there’s a lot of care and thought that goes into our work and the work we feature. Our goal is to make people stop and think—even if only for a few minutes—and, in the case of photography, to relish in the thought or intuition that goes into a great image.
Originally published on the New York Photo Festival blog