MOORHEAD — The Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium was held on Sept. 19 and 20 and featured three plenary sessions as well as fourteen concurrent sessions addressing the importance and impact of photojournalism.
Former Director of Visuals and Immersive Experiences at National Geographic and currently the CEO of Catalina Island Conservancy, Whitney Latorre kicked off Symposium Tuesday night.
Latorre’s session was titled “New Voices, New Visions.” She aims to focus on the purpose of photography in the future while paying tribute to its impact on the past.
“Innovation has been at the very core of storytelling since the beginning,” Latorre said. “We must be more ambitious about creating stories.”
Latorre addressed topics such as extinction, the climate crisis and resources photographers will have in the future. These resources include VR and the usage of social media for the new coming age of Digital 3.0. Platforms such as TikTok help spread awareness.
One TikTok of a woolly monkey received 21.7 million views, with the caption “Don’t want to imagine a world without the woolly monkey,” which spread a message of conservation and wildlife protection to a wide audience.
The next day of sessions began with the director of the Gallatin Photojournalism Lab at New York University and director of Lost Rolls America, Lauren Walsh. During Walsh’s presentation titled “Photojournalism in a World Crisis, she discussed the capturing of human suffering and told a story of one of her former students at NYU who had issues with a picture of a severely starving man.
“It’s a photo that confronts you with how dire human suffering can be,” Walsh said.
The student was about to go out to dinner, and he told Walsh there was no point in showing the photo since there was nothing he could personally do about it. Although this comment initially caught Walsh off-guard over time, she realized his opinion is one shared by many.
“You find yourself in ethical gray zones,” Walsh said. “When we look at pictures in the news it doesn’t mean they were easy decisions.”
Walsh went on to elaborate on the importance of these images, and although they make some feel uncomfortable, they are vital for change.
“There are certain photos that are just like a stomach punch to me,” Walsh said, “you have human costs that need to be paid attention to.”
The third featured speaker National Geographic photographer and founder of Vital Impacts, Ami Vitale, gave her presentation on “Using Photography to Make an Impact.”
Vitale has traveled all over the world spending time not only photographing for National Geographic but building connections and sharing stories from the people she met.
“Empathy is the wellspring of creativity… it is the most important tool we can go out into the world with,” Vitale said.
She spoke of the other halves of stories which are filled with love, not hate, and do not often make the headlines. Oftentimes freelance photographers will work for long periods of time on topics that never reach the press, but this does not mean the story is any less.
“It is our responsibility to learn as much as we can,” Walsh said. “We are in this intricate web together.”
The 14 Concurrent Sessions that students, professors and community members could attend were hosted by various local professionals. Many sessions had an overwhelming attendance rate.
In multiple sessions, every seat in the room was filled, and many gathered in the entryways and hallway to learn more about the topics to be discussed in the sessions. From sports photography, data visualization to how to sustain a living community, there were a plethora of sessions where one could find something that catered to their interests.
“Dall-Eing, That’s Not a Real Photo,” hosted by Joseph Kennedy, Laura Probst, Professor Darin Ulness, and Professor Teri Langley, covered how to spot an AI generated photo by thinking critically, how to use AI in an ethical manner and the differences between misinformation and disinformation. Probst covered the reality of how AI generates humans and their faces.
“Computers do not know what a human face looks like. They can only try to detect human facial features and recognize them as a face.” Probst said, while talking about the problems within AI facial recognition.
C.S. Hagen, a journalist for Forum Communications, covered what it is like to work on the site of a protest and riot. In “Documenting a Local Riot,” Hagen discussed what his job is as a journalist during these stressful events.
“The search for truth might be very two sided, but as a journalist, it is not my job to find the truth. Journalists are out there to report unbiased information,” Hagen said.
Hagen covered the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016-2017 in western North Dakota as well as the Black Lives Matter protest on May 30. 2020 in Fargo, North Dakota that turned into a riot. Within Riot photography, Hagen touched on how it is a dangerous profession, but feels safe while he is photographing the events.
“The camera, fake or true, is a sense of security” Hagen said.
To wrap up the Fall 2023 Symposium, college President Colin Irvine led a panel with the plenary session speakers Whitney Latorre, Lauren Walsh and Ami Vitale. Within the hour-long panel, the three were asked in depth how to follow passions, interests and what their lives look like on a regular basis. Whitney Latorre, who self-proclaimed herself a “major in curiosity,” discussed the importance of the continuation of education and how one should never stop learning.
While discussing the new digital age with Irvine, all three panelists discussed the importance that technology that is starting to take shape will not replace the technology that we already have. Walsh talked about the importance of intermixing parts of the current technology and the new technology to be more productive within an educational setting.
Latorre also mentioned the importance of paving one’s own path to success within a career. She also noted each person has unique paths and journeys in finding their way in the world.
“There’s way more stories out there than we are telling,” Latorre said, addressing not only personal lives but also the media. “You have to go where someone else is not going.”
“Where are the stories that are not being told in the media?” Latorre asked the audience to encourage students to look outside of the box and into their futures.