Another productive week. I’ve finished the first draft of my oral presentation, which can be found here (Draft).
Some of the images I’ve been making this week:
This week we’ve been discussing Power and Responsibilities. The presentations have touched on ethical photography, ethics in our practice, the triangular model, and risk assessment. We were also asked to write a reflection on the week’s work.
In the forum, I posted the following response to the ethical judgements involved in the taking of and publishing / use of photographs in response to this article about the use Jeff Mitchell’s photograph:
I’ll be writing about ethical judgements in three parts.
‘The taking of’, or a photographer’s ethical responsibility: I think Jeff Mitchell said it best in the article, “you have to remain impartial. I’m there to record what happens. I know it sounds simplistic, but you shoot what’s in front of you.” He also mentions that he was there to do a job, which is another important issue. Photojournalists have a job which is to visually document an event, either for a specific outlet or for an agency but not with the slant of said outlet or agency. Photographers don’t usually have a lot of control over where their photos are published or which of their images are used. In my opinion, any ethical responsibility once the image has been impartially shot and sent is up to the editors / new outlets / advertising agencies / political campaigns.
Publication / use of, or the image user’s ethical responsibility: For any event a photographer may send a number of images, allowing the journalists / editors to pick and choose which images they feel fit the space best. Oftentimes they use agencies such as Getty, Reuters, AP for their images of current events, especially in international or national sections outside of their area of distribution. I’m not familiar with UK papers but in Spain and the US, it is quite common for them to have a slant. When faced with the same stories, they each have a different way of presenting it, and the increased use of agencies with hundreds of images of the same event allows these papers to choose an image to favor the slant they wish to give to the story. And it goes without saying that political campaigns and corporations will use any images that they feel will best communicate what they wish to, whether it be truthful or not.
However, I feel that as photographers we often tend to hide behind the ‘I told it as it is’ defense when our images are used for different purposes than we might have intended. I don’t know that I disagree personally with this defense. It is comforting, but there is a part of me that would still feel a bit responsible. I think of the responsibility that Kevin Carter, famous for his work in the Bang Bang club, felt for his work. His father, Jimmy Carter said “Kevin always carried around the horror of the work he did” at the time of his death by suicide in 1994 (NYTimes:29 Jul. 1994).
I also think back to a photograph we’re all familiar with, Eddie Adam’s ‘Saigon Execution’ from 1968
I attended a speech he gave in 2001 and he talked about the image, among other lighter anecdotes about his career. He said it was one of the only images he ever regretted shooting as the image, showing the situation ‘as it is’ lacked context as it was published. Adams told the audience that the man being executed was actually a soldier (a Captain), fighting in civilian clothes (against the Geneva conventions), and was responsible for a number of killings during the Tet offensive, and among those killed were civilians, according to the BBC, the wife and six children of a friend of the shooter, Brig. General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The image was important to swaying public opinion around the world, yet Adams felt he had personally ruined the life of a good man, the executioner.
So in short, I feel it’s complicated but we should do our best to accurately, and as widely as possible, document the events that are around us.
As an image maker or author, what moral dilemmas do you encounter in your own practice, or more broadly, around the medium of photography?
Do you have any models of your own to assess the appropriateness of an image or how it is used?
I personally do not feel I encounter many moral dilemmas with my own practice, as I am usually hired to fulfill a specific need, a head or glamour shot, a report of an event, a series of images from a Flamenco show.
Yet in my journalistic work, as an occasional contributor for the Diario de Sevilla, I do try my best to cover all angles, consider different perspectives, and to try to at least not make the subject matter come off in an unfavorable light. I have yet to photograph a controversial event, my work in this aspect is centered on events around town such as accidents/apartment fires, images from the hundreds of conventions held here year round, and press conferences.
In the forum discussing our own considerations, I do ask what I might do in the case of covering an event of national/international import. To which I have no clear answer. I suspect I might be more choosy in which images I send off to the media outlet, yet oftentimes one does not have the luxury of much time for local events.
And I have no model besides the one I’ve learned about today. I am familiar with the concept of sitter, photographer, spectator yet I had not thought to apply it to the ethics of my own work.
We’ve also been asked to write a brief reflection on these questions:
What has challenged you?
What has surprised you?
What do you feel you have learned?
What issues do you think constitute (in relation to your own specialism) an ‘ethical practice’, and what do you need to do to enhance your own?
So I think the challenge this week has been doing the draft oral presentation as well as the normal course work. I felt a bit more pressure this week and it’s not even over yet.
I was surprised to see the Triangular model of ethical consideration as it encapsulates quite well the ethics of photography that I was haphazardly taught as an undergraduate many moons ago.
Above in my review of the triangular model, I mentioned ethics in my own practice. To enhance my own ‘ethical practice’, I believe I need to think more carefully about each image I make, and of where that image will end up.