Solutions Journalism in Visuals

Photojournalism’s mission is to inspire deeper empathy between audiences and the lived experiences of those photographed. Photojournalists often seek to connect people worlds away from each other. Solutions journalism reports on and amplifies the work of people striving to address social, environmental and political ills. In order to achieve those aims, photojournalists should understand the difference between image-making approaches that humanise versus de-humanise vulnerable communities. This is why showing who is responding and how they are responding — a core tenet of solutions journalism — is important.

Here are a few approaches to produce inclusive and equity-focused solutions photojournalism:

Check our biases and our privileges

a) As journalists, we often find ourselves telling the stories of communities with whom we have no previous knowledge or experience. Whether we recognise it or not, our particular life experiences prime us to understand the world in very specific ways. 

b) The power of photography lies in its ability to frame stories symbolically. Those symbols and visual shorthands we choose to use, however, can either expand audiences’ understanding of certain communities or reproduce one-sided, disempowering narratives. Interrogate what pre-existing ideas about race, class, gender, religion, sexuality and disability might animate your visual representations of people and places in your photographs. 

c) Recognise the difference in power dynamics between a reporter who can drop in and out of a space to report on an issue, and those who will continue to experience it long after others have left. Privileges carry with them a responsibility to recognise their existence and understand how these privileges shape our interactions with others.

Seek to understand the complex structural and historical inequities that have created existing problems

a) Every good “solution” must first truly grasp the problem itself. 

b) Journalism rarely answers the question of “how did we get here?” If we want to report to answer the question “How do we fix this problem?” we should make the problem comprehensible to the public and thoroughly address how proposed solutions understand the problem at its core. This will result in holistic, accurate journalism and better-informed audiences.

Engage the people and communities in our images as more than “subjects”

a) We’re telling their stories; in order to do so accurately and truthfully, we need to move beyond their victimisation. We should begin by understanding the “subjects” and communities we portray as individuals and social ecosystems, whose experiences and practices may work in ways unfamiliar to us. 

b) Avoid victim narratives and instead seek to make images that portray people as holistic beings with complex interior and exterior lives.

From Thinking Inclusion + Equity in Solutions Photojournalism by Tara Pixley,  an award-winning photojournalist and professor of visual journalism based in Los Angeles (The Whole Story)