After 11 years of running the Pictures of the Year International contest at the University of Missouri, Rick Shaw has seen an evolution in the work by top photojournalists.
“The degree of excellence just continues to accelerate, especially in the types of seeing photojournalists are employing right now,” Shaw said. “It is at a new plateau and it continues to grow.”
Shaw was talking during his last days in Missouri before moving to Florida. He is going into retirement, but only partially. He will be a part-time adjunct instructor this fall at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications in Gainesville, teaching a design class and working in the college’s Innovation News Center.
He loves Missouri where he got his degree and the faculty, the students and POYi but it was time to play another card in his career. His wife is from Pensacola and he has worked in the state in the past, so they looked to Florida for their next chapter.
The POYi contest is just one of Shaw’s landmarks from his time at Missouri, but it is perhaps the most visible. The contest is celebrating its 75th anniversary next year with a special exhibition at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Shaw also started a drone journalism program at Missouri and is interested in continuing that teaching.
The growing quality in photojournalism Shaw mentions can be contributed to the increased media landscape, he said. Being able to easily see more work and have more platforms for innovative projects gives everyone a chance to up their game.
While he celebrates more sophisticated images, Shaw is worried about the digital work done after the shots are made.
“I am also concerned to what extent some of these advancements are done in post production for gee-whiz effects,” Shaw said.
During recent POYi judging, Shaw said he has encouraged jury members to consider if they can look past any digital darkroom techniques to see if the a photograph is good at its foundation and “asking ourselves; Is this a true representation of the scene?” he said.
While cutting and pasting and changing content is easily seen as unethical and basic toning as accepted, the space between the two is where the conversation becomes more difficult.
“Whenever you make a point, there is a counter to it,” Shaw said. “That’s a chef’s recipe. How much salt is too much salt?”
Shaw will still be working with young journalists in the classrooms at UF. The skill sets they will need are also something he has seen change dramatically over the last several years.
Photojournalists today, he said, need to be multifaceted, working in stills, video, websites, mobile apps and more. And since more and more photojournalists are independents, a good eight-week business course could make all the difference.
Shaw added that since nearly no one can survive on just editorial assignments these days, one would also need to decide on the balance of their clients. Photojournalists should be “taking two days and sitting on the mountain top with a conversation with yourself about commercial work versus journalism work and how you’re going to separate that ethically,” he said.