journalism photography

The Eyes Have It

We talk a lot about using the ‘eyes on the ground’ when we conduct journalism through social media. We are, in essence, seeing what other people three through their phones & video cameras as they experience events first hand. These are our sources in the new environment – people we will never meet, people with whom we may never even hold a real conversation.

Old-school journalists rail against these practices. They are used to the more phsyically tangible – they will often not trust a source unless they have felt the grip of their handshake, or at least had a chance to look them in the eyes. The eyes, after all, are often the very measure of a human being. It is hard to hide your true nature if you’re making eye contact with someone.

True enough, you can now get a rich picture of someone’s behaviour and projected personality from the trail they leave online. We leave more comprehensive and lasting digital footprints than ever before.

Nonetheless, as a journalist, one must always be skeptical. A profile that can be moulded and controlled can always be distorted. Just look at the trickery that led a number of prominent journalists to be hoodwinked by a supposedly female (lesbian) blogger in Damascus who turned out to be a male American journalist.  Similarly, journalist Nicola Hughes (aka @datamineruk) used some calculated deception to gain access to the UK squat party scene. (See Martin Belam’s post here). Nicola fabricated an entire online persona over several weeks to dupe people into letting her infiltrate the parties and figure out where the money came from.

If it can be controlled, it can be manipulated – to great effect

Your eyes are hard to control. Eyes remain that clichéd window to the soul, a hint at any person’s true being. Your eyes are largely who you are.

Any time I capture a true look in someone’s eyes on film, it speaks volumes about them. My grandfather’s inner mischief, or the caring eyelids of Ivor Browne. The lingering hurt in the eyes of Bill Johnson, whose adopted Aboriginal son was killed in a racially-motivated brawl. The calm confidence of William Kibaya who plans to be president of Kenya.

No matter how much you can find out about someone is like through what they leave behind, one look in their eyes will tell you more about what they are.

It’s all in the eyes. The eyes have it.

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