When the line blurs between photography and photojournalism


British sports photographer Tom Jenkins has written a thought-provoking article for The Guardian about how quickly sports stories can turn into breaking news events. In the aftermath of the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon, Jenkins draws parallels with past tragedies including the Hillsborough disaster, which occurred on the same day 24 years earlier.

Jenkins quotes photographer John Tlumacki, who was covering the marathon for the Boston Globe: ‘I was covering the finish line at ground level at the marathon. Everything was going on as usual. It was jovial – people were happy, clapping – and getting to a point where it gets a little boring as a photographer. And then we heard this explosion’. Tlumaki carried on shooting, explaining ‘my instinct was: no matter what it is, you’re a photographer first; that’s what you are doing’.  

Police react to the second explosion, near the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon. Photographer John Tlumaki, working for the Boston Globe, found himself going from covering a sporting event to a terrorist atrocity in seconds. 

Photograph: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe/AP 

Wondering how he would react in the same situation, Jenkins explains his usual mindset when setting out for work: ‘just as a war or news photographer should be mentally attuned to what they are likely to see, I am similarly prepared. I am certainly not ready for bombs and violence to erupt in the arenas where I work. I don’t go to work in a bulletproof vest and helmet, I go with a fishing stool and a 500m lens’.

But although most of his work is safe and predictable, Jenkins has been thrust into the middle of breaking news events, remembering how ‘in 1996 I was called away from snooker at Wembley to get to the IRA Canary Wharf bombing [and] in Marseille at the World Cup of 1998, I found myself, regrettably without an anti-teargas mask, in the middle of a full-scale riot between French police, local Tunisians and visiting England fans’.

Tom Jenkins was in Marseille in 1998 for the soccer world cup, when rioting broke out between
fans and police, and found himself covering an entirely different story – in a different
environment – than he was expecting.

Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

Jenkins also remembered ‘on the day Princess Diana died, my football match was cancelled and I was sent down to Harrods to see people laying flowers, where I was spat at and blamed for her death: possession of a large pro camera marked me down as “paparazzi scum”‘.

Asking himself how he would have reacted if he had been at the Boston marathon Jenkins says ‘I feel it’s a fine dividing line, achieving a delicate balance between helping someone in need but also recording the situation without exploiting it. Under extreme pressure that sort of call is very hard to make. I sincerely hope I never have to.’

At the time of writing, a manhunt for the perpetrators of the Boston bombings is still underway, and US security forces have been pouring over thousands of photographs and videos taken by photographers at the event – both professional and amateur. One of our own contributors, Lauren Crabbe, was among them. You can read about her experiences that day here.


Jack Simpson

Vancouver …. June 1994 and 2011 Amazing how “fill in the descriptive word of your choice ” 🙁

for photojournalists …. in 1994 … scary but that’s the job

2011 …. oh cool, that’l be neat on Utube x 50,000 🙁


OY! the article you are referencing is about the line between SPORTS photography and photojournalism. not about the (unquestionably nonexistent) line between photojournalism and photography, photojournalism IS photography, that is why there is photo in the name.

not sure if it is a mistype, or just over sensationalizing a simple guardian article. fix it ether way.


Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki can be seen shooting the first photograph above (runner down, with police), in this video at the 32 second point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=rt-e4cbJ5iA

Read more: http://lightbox.time.com/2013/04/15/tragedy-in-boston-one-photographers-eyewitness-account/#ixzz2Qxwl9VLE

Carlos C

Having watched the video of the Boston Marathon bombing at least 20 times I did see at least one photographer that looked professional taking pictures, but also letting his camera hang by its strap as he helped to remove some of the barriers in front of the victims.

Zvonimir Tosic

Reflect this unfortunate tragedy to organised protests of photographers, who reacted on (what they believe were) severe restrictions of their rights to take photographs in public and other places.

In this case, without so many photographs taken by so many spectators, and police being unable to get them and analyse, it is very likely the suspects would never be found, and would be encouraged to commit even more crime.

By allowing people to take photographs more freely, and with expanding social media, we also have a very effective crime preventive. Governments may demand more budget money to tighten national security and limit photographers’ rights, or, they can be more relaxed and allow citizens and people of good will to be an active part of it.


Personally, without any medical training, I think I would have take shoot. But not shooting to show blood and bones, but instead, to capture the instant, the feeling, with respect for the injured and the deads.

As stated “I sincerely hope I never have to.”


As far as that fine line goes… I don’t think there was much the photographer could have done to help anyone unless he had some very specific medical training. When something like this happens, people rush to “help” and often get in the way of the EMTs and police.

Well meaning good Samaritans often add to the confusion and hinder the rescue effort. Panicked people without the proper training would do best just to stand clear, unless they are specifically asked to do something. This is the real fine line to worry about. Are you really helping or are you just getting in the way?

This isn’t like the case of the man who fell into the subway pit, where some said the photographer should have pulled him out rather than taking photos. Even in that case, the train was moving so fast and the photographer was so far away that he couldn’t have done anything.

Source Article from http://www.dpreview.com/news/2013/04/19/when-the-line-blurs-between-photography-and-photojournalism