State of the Art: A New Kind of Journalism from Getty Images ... and Toyota

By David Schonauer   Wednesday June 3, 2015

Can journalism and advertising live together without sin?

As traditional media deals with modern financial realities, budgets for original photography and video have been slashed, and photojournalists have begun looking for other avenues of support and new ways to create meaningful work. A good example of that is a recent project  created for Toyota by Reportage by Getty Images  and the 360i advertising agency.

The project, a series of short video documentaries, is part of Toyota’s TeenDrive 365 teenage-driver safety initiative. Rather than producing standard advertising to promote the effort, the 360i agency turned to Reportage by Getty Images to create nuanced, intriguing documentaries exploring the lives of teen drivers and their families.

Getty, in turn, brought in three of its photographers, Sara Lewkowicz, Shaul Schwarz, and Benjamin Lowy, to make the short films. The result is sophisticated branded content that may provide a glimpse of photojournalism’s future.

“Getty is going to an interesting place by working with corporate clients as editorial clients are disappearing,” says Lowy, whose documentary for Toyota is an intimate portrait of 16-year-old Chloe Vaught and her family in Los Angeles. The film addresses driving as an American rite of passage and a difficult transition, as Chloe’s parents watch her drive off into a dangerous world.

Lowy captured the family’s life with some impressive footage, including aerial views of LA’s freeways captured with a drone. He also made use of a MoVI motorized gimbal stabilizer to get shots that once would have required dolly tracks. To capture slow-motion video he relied on his iPhone, shooting at 120 frames per second.

Schwarz’s documentary features the Rabinowitz family of Boston, while Lewkowicz’s film looks at the Moore family of St. Petersburg, Florida. All the families featured in the films were identified through the photographers’ own research, aided by the 3601 ad agency.

“What Toyota and the ad agency wanted was the skills we use every day as journalists,” says Lewkowicz. “At the same time, you’re dealing with the constraints of working with an advertising client, so it was a challenge.”

For companies like Toyota, it’s becoming increasing important to create serious-minded, service-oriented content around their products, notes Lowy. “Especially in the era of social media, they need to get out in front of issues—like teen-driving safety—to say, ‘We know about this situation, we’re on it, we’re covering this,” he says.

Lowy also sees the project as a return to an older time when major companies backed significant journalistic enterprises. After World War II, for instance, Standard Oil decided to launch a public-relations documentary project, and to run it the company brought in Roy Stryker, who headed the vaunted Farm Security Administration photo project during the Great Depression. Stryker brought along with him many of the former FSA photographers who had worked for him and created what would become a celebrated photographic library.

“I like the idea of creating these documentaries,” says Lowy. “They are real—nothing is done that’s fake, it’s a real documentary—but it has a commercial component.”

Does that disqualify the work as journalism?


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