Photojournalist John Moore

Interview: Nezih Tavlas / June 16, 2021

“My goal is to present the people I photograph in a way that is fair to reality”

(Credit Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?

John Moore: I was only 16 when I took a photojournalism class at my high school near Dallas, Texas. I had been a musician in the school concert band and had also played sports, but my talents were misplaced in both of those. In photography, however, an extraordinary teacher discovered my aptitude and guided my passion through positive reinforcement, and attention to detail. What drew me to photojournalism was the alignment of luck, passion and some level of talent. What has kept me in photojournalism is believing that the profession matters. When done well, photojournalism adds to the betterment of society as a whole. I still feel that is the case.

Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?

John Moore: Also during my early years a key mentor who worked for Canon loaned me his personal gear until I could afford to buy my own, which I did with a bank loan co-signed by my parents. I’ve been loyal to Canon through the years. These days, I use a pair of mirrorless Canon R5 bodies. For the majority of my work I use a 24-70 2.8 IS zoom and a 35mm 1.4 prime. When covering spot news, I’ll often have a 70-200 f4.0 IS on the second body. For video clips, I use my iPhone 12 at 4K, I trim the clips in the phone and upload to the Getty Images site via Dropbox.

Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?

John Moore: Instagram and Twitter:

Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?

John Moore: If it’s the first time I’m covering a certain topic or news event, I’ll try and do as much online research as I can to see how it’s been reported before and think about ways to photograph it differently. I’ll often scan news stories to identify organizations that have been quoted, so that I can reach out to them. These may be non-profit NGOs or governmental agencies, but it’s key to find people who are motivated, for whatever reason, to help me report on the issue. Sometimes these contacts are also the gatekeepers to the story and thus should be approached carefully, as to not blow the access from the start. As far as what I will put in my bag, I might bring extra equipment, off camera lights for instance, to give a different look from what other photographers may have done in the past. In general, what differentiates my pictures from others has less to do with the photo gadgetry and more to do with the access I’m able to achieve and the story that comes from that access.

Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?

John Moore: My style of work is straightforward in its approach. My goal is to present the people I photograph in a way that is fair to reality, in as much as that is possible. Objectivity is a worthy goal but, in practical sense, unattainable, as we also bring our personal experiences along with us. Fairness is a more realistic goal. Although I admire many activists, I am not one myself. My work is sometimes held up by activists for their cause, but that’s not my own goal. I want to photograph stories of public interest and do so fairly. For me the journalism part of photojournalism is the motivating factor. In today’s visual world it’s hard to hold people’s attention for very long. So, the more interesting or artistic I can make photographs, the more they will resonate with people and understand the story behind them.

Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?

John Moore: I’m usually covering broad issues, so on a given day, I may make a couple hundred images. But the day’s work is often part of a larger story comprised of many thousands of photographs, which obviously get edited down. Because I am a wire service photographer for Getty, I am often transmitting a few dozen images a day, which go out on our news feed to subscribers. I typically don’t save up an entire project’s worth of pictures for release as a single story. Rather, I’ll file them on a daily basis as the story unfolds. Only at the end of the year, when it’s time to assemble the edited story for contests, for instance, will a tight edit come together.

Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?

John Moore: My most recent trip was to Iraq and northern Syria. I was embedded with US-led coalition forces for about 10 days. I had originally pitched the idea to them as a way to show the public what the current military mission is there, 18 years after the initial invasion and a relatively short time after the defeat of ISIS. Back in my 30’s I covered that invasion while embedded with the US Army, in one of the seminal coverages of my career. I returned there many times over the first 5 years of the war but had been back only once in this last decade. Visiting places where I had witnessed incredible drama, as well as trauma, years before caused in me a sense of deja vu--I suppose for a time when most of my life and profession still lay ahead of me. I also felt great sadness for all those who had needlessly suffered due to long unjust war.

Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?

John Moore: The beauty (the beast?) of this profession is that we don’t really know what’s next. I’ll continue looking at themes like immigration, but the specific ways that broad issue will manifest remain a mystery. Because all my efforts in 2020 surrounded covering the pandemic, I’ll try to show the ways that American society is emerging from that time.

Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?

John Moore: I’ve done this now for 30 years, and I’ve witnessed a lot so that’s really tough to say. There have of course been photographs that have received incredible public attention, like the “Crying Girl at the Border” image from 2018 or the Benazir Bhutto assassination series from a decade earlier. Those were sad and violent, so they are not favorites but certainly meaningful to me in my career.

Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?

John Moore: The message of each photograph or series of photographs is determined by the particular situation, so I wouldn’t like to give a standard answer for that. I will say though, that I try to depict people in a dignified way, even though the situation they find themselves in may be distinctly undignified. I try to provide context whenever possible, if not in the single image, at least within a series of pictures, and certainly in the captions.

(Courtesy of John Moore)

Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?

John Moore: Memorable photographs are ones that make people feel. The vast majority of photographs, no matter how technically perfect they may be, do not make people feel and thus will not be memorable.

Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?

John Moore: After more than 30 years in the field, I still think that photojournalism matters. There are times when I’m photographing incredible injustice when I hope my imagery might sway public opinion, even change government policy. I am sometimes disappointed when that doesn’t happen. However, there are other moments when an image I make touches people’s hearts deeply and causes a global conversation. Because of social media, these conversations now happen across borders and can be almost instantaneous. What we do still matters.

Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?

John Moore: I’ve taken numerous professional physical risks and some come to mind in combat zones over the years, but I’ve tried to limit those risks along the way. It’s entirely possible to work in hostile environments and, within those situations, measure the risks carefully, causing me to occasionally miss photos but live to work another day. I should mention that colleagues of mine, many with great experience in the field, have taken those same risks and had tragic results. There is a matter of luck which is beyond our control. Aside from the physical risks I’ve taken, there was a major career risk I took which comes to mind. In 2005 after 13 years with the Associated Press I went to Getty Images. I left behind a good job for AP in Cairo managing a region (the Middle East) with a global AP staff that I was very close to. Getty Images offered to let me get back to my own photojournalism full time and gave me the trust and editorial freedom to decide many of the projects I would work on. The Getty family has been very supportive of me over the years, and I work with terrific people.

Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?

John Moore: Passion, which leads to a strong work ethic, compassion, empathy, the ability to be spontaneous without being impulsive, curiosity, a sense of fairness. Some modicum of artistic talent is also key, if you ever want people to spend time with your pictures.

Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?

John Moore: I’m fully in favor of the typically accepted forms of light manipulation, such as post processing that brings out shadow detail, darkens certain areas of a photo, cropping, you know, the industry-accepted tweaks that make an image more understandable. Manipulation that changes the content of an image is unacceptable, not only because it does a disservice to the story, but it cheapens the profession of photojournalism in the public eye. During this age when public confidence in journalism in low, we need to uphold the highest standards in maintaining whatever of that trust remains.

Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?

John Moore: An ethical photojournalist is honest with those she or he photographs and honest in the photography that results.

Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?

John Moore: Photojournalists should embrace not only stills but video and other forms of visual storytelling that engage the public in ways that keep their attention. Photojournalism is not losing its importance. The public’s interest in photography is at an all-time high. Our photos should find people where they are, whether it be in traditional media or social.

Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?

John Moore: The mediums in which photographs are displayed are constantly changing. The power if the image, however, is undiminished. Excellence in this profession will never be easy, but it never was. There are fewer staff jobs, no doubt, but most successful editorial freelancers bring in occasional corporate work, which helps them continue taking photojournalistic assignments that matter to them. Be kind to others in the profession and that will come back to you tenfold - our careers are long, and people remember. Communicate with those who you photograph. If people trust you are honest and that you believe their story is important, they will allow you into their lives.

John Moore

John Moore is a senior staff photographer and special correspondent for Getty Images. In his three decades as a photojournalist, he has worked in 70 countries on 6 continents. His 2018 book Undocumented represents ten years of coverage on immigration issues in the United States and Latin America. Moore has received top honors throughout his career, including the 2018 World Press Photo of the Year for his iconic image “Crying Girl on the Border.” In 2019 he received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. In 2008 he was honored with the Robert Capa Gold Medal from the OPC as well as photographer of the year from the NPPA, POY and Sony. He was part of the AP team awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography. Moore is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied Radio-Television-Film. He lives with his family in Stamford, Connecticut.