A blog post by photojournalist Zoriah Miller got my attention recently. The post contained a top ten of photojournalists of all time produced by the website Digital Photography Basics in which Zoriah had come sixth. Very nice i thought, but then I noticed that Don McCullin was in seventh place (yeah right!!) and a few problems started to emerge from the list. Just how do you judge who is better? What criteria do you use? Do you take into account different eras and world events? Is it about the photography or are other factors included? Suddenly compiling a top ten becomes a bit of a nightmare.
A couple of years ago, British television was full of these ‘best of’ programmes. The best 100 love films/comedy/war films/science fiction films/ etc etc etc. It was tedious but the TV people loved them because it filled in about three or four hours of programming schedule. One thing became apparent from these TV shows – the public vote format they used tended to favour the new. Time became a deciding factor on rating. If a film had been released recently it stood a far better chance of getting a higher position than an older 1940’s film. Music top tens were even worse because most people would vote for flavour of the month/year. Robbie Williams would often be higher for the best album ever than The Rolling Stones. Age and public awareness determined position. That is the fatal flaw with certain top ten topics. Do the vote five days/months/years later and you’d get a completely different result.
If you try to do a top ten with photographers surely you must have to take into account the era into account. You could do a top ten best Vietnam war photographers but it would be a lot trickier to compare Larry Burrows to a modern photojournalist like James Nachtwey. Both photographers live(d) and work(d) in two totally different times, with different needs, technology and media audiences. One isn’t better than the other. It’s like comparing directly a 1950’s football player with the modern player. So much has changed that it’s virtually impossible to use any static and solid measurement to compare them. The best idea is to not even try.