There will be a few raised eyebrows at the news that the campaign photographer used by UK Prime Minister David Cameron is to join the civil servants' payroll. At times of austerity should the state pay for more intimate-yet-flattering pics of Dave and his lovely family? (The government insist the photographer will work across all Whitehall departments).
My view on this might surprise readers. Given that all governments employ politicised advisors [SpAds], often to present policy in the media, I cannot see why this appointment should be any more controversial. We live in a visual culture in which the image often gets more attention than the written word. An official photographer with special access also plays a role in laying down a historical record. Nobody thought twice about informal pictures of Barack Obama and his family as they prepared for inauguration day. In fact, the Whitehouse has its own flickr photostream. These days it seems to show endless pictures of a troubled President on the telephone...
An embedded snapper will never show the whole picture. An unposed picture can be more misleading that the old fashioned formal handouts. It was selected by PR people. The photographer may have been directed. We are unlikely ever to see Sam Cam or the Obamas having a row. These images have the power to manipulate us. They do have worth, but we must remember the circumstances and power-relationships behind their creation.
This is why it remains so important for press photographers to do their jobs, even if that occasionally risks intrusion. One of the best political pictures of the last two decades was taken in a public space by a snapper surrounded by newspaper colleagues who failed to get the same shot. He glanced up at a gauze curtain in time to to see - and capture - a tearful Margaret Thatcher take her last look from the Downing Street window the day she left office. I once worked with the photographer on a less glamorous job. He was freelance, and told me the Number 10 picture earned more money than every other shot he took that year. Despite its impact at the time, I have been unable to find a link to it. The internet means we have an infinity of images at our disposal. But how many are memorable?