Photojournalism of the 80’s and 90’s

By: Jacob Hales

Here we go again, yet another topic most people don’t pay much notice to and I’m here to prove its worth. This time it’s on photojournalism during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Where do we begin?


The ‘80s and ‘90s played a pivotal role in human history; it was an era defined by the clashing of traditionalism and modernism, foreign affairs, teen culture, protest, and the transition between analog and digital technology. However, I personally have a newfound love for the journalistic techniques of the period. Photojournalists of the later decades of the 20th century strived to find naturalism in their photographs and made you feel like you were actually there—at Tiananmen Square in 1989, at the Kremlin during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, in downtown LA during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.


So what makes this time period so special? The ‘80s and ‘90s were a time of immense change and protest, and we still consider these decades modern (or at least somewhat). Computers and cellphones began playing a role in the daily life of consumers; an email could be sent from Los Angeles to Tokyo in a matter of seconds. It seemed as if the world couldn’t be more connected.


Why is it any different from other times in photographic history? The 1980s sparked a digital craze in the hearts of American consumers. Electronic music became mainstream, car companies began installing digital dashboards, and music mediums boasted “digital stereo sound”, so camera companies hopped on the digital marketing bandwagon. Companies like Nikon introduced matrix metering and high speed burst rates; their Nikon F3 could shoot at an astounding 13 fps (frames per second) and rip through a 36-exposure roll of film in under 2.5 seconds. Canon introduced the Program feature on their cameras, it allowed inexperienced consumers to use the camera without having to first learn and understand the intricacies of photography. It was advancements like these that launched photojournalism into the arms of jobless, familyless, and fearless Americans.


Some of the greatest photographs of all time were taken during these two decades—the Afghan Girl, Tank Man, Victim of Columbian Volcanic eruption: Omayra Sanchez, Starving Child in Sudan.


Imagine the feeling of adrenaline running through the veins of journalists like Steve McCurry and James Nachtwey as they looked through their viewfinders and saw the course of history changing right before their eyes. Imagine the feeling of horror seeing a Chinese civilian walking in the path of four tanks on Beijing street, the feeling of relief seeing the sickle and hammer being replaced by the Russian tri-color at the Kremlin, the feeling of patriotism when the USA won the Gold medal during the “Miracle on Ice”


We, everyday citizens, owe it to the brave journalists of the era who risked their lives in the far corners of the globe as well as on the homefront, taking photographs of plight and destruction as well as beauty in times of peril.


These photographs are reminders of who we are as a species, these moments when we stand in the face of adversity, these moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to hold a hand open for humanity to follow suit. We will always be the ones to change the world. And no other era will show that more than the last twenty years of the twentieth century.



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