Yesterday I attended to a local photography group meeting. The subjects of these meetings are usually more photography techniques related, but sometimes there is a nice debate. The theme of the night was ethics in photography practice. It wasn’t necessary to be a seasoned photographer to attend to this session, as the subject is applicable to lots of different aspects of life or work.
Some famous photographs were shown, that somehow have stirred the minds of people in recent years, along with other examples.The panellists talked about their experience in newspapers or street photography, two specific genres that can have issues of this kind. Issues about what pictures must be taken and not.Issues about what are the intentions of publishing specific pictures, their context and how playing with that context can alter the meaning of those pictures.
It seemed to me that for the newspaper person, the thing was about delegation and his own common sense and experience. Everything was measured on a professional scale. He was sent by his editors to cover some specific thing happening somewhere. His mission was just taking as many pictures as he could. And later this editors, based on their own criteria, featured “the picture”for the event. He mentioned a few times in his career that was told off by people asking why he was taking this or that picture. He was sent once to a place where a woman had drown in the sea, and some people started questioning his presence in that terrible scene. He also mentioned other times when he just wasn’t able to take pictures of some specific events he experienced. For example, when he saw an accident in the road just in front of him, and his first reaction was waiting for the medical services to appear. He wasn’t on an assignment, so he didn’t took any pictures. He didn’t even thought about it.
The street photographer was less concerned about this, I think. His sole intentions are mostly artistic ones. He wants to make a nicely framed picture of ordinary people doing more or less ordinary things in the streets of Cambridge. The biggest moral dilemma is usually the kind of: should I ask for permission, or not? Will that person notice me with my camera? If some embarrassing situation arises he just gives a card to people with his website address, so if they see a “bad” picture of theirs, they can ask him for removal. I have seen his pictures and they are really nice. In both technical qualities and intentions. I don’t think anyone could have ever found them offensive.
The extremes were mentioned. People that will do the impossible to get a picture. Someone mentioned Don McCullin, and I instantly remembered his documentary. I think that is a quite good example of a photographer that faced really difficult situations and even risked his life for “the picture”. Could his presence have changed some events he witnessed? Does a photographer in an armed conflict has that kind of power or responsibility? These are some incredible difficult questions that not even McCullin seems to have an answer for. At the same time, his legacy is an amazing set of historical pictures that hopefully will raise the awareness about the damages of the armed conflicts he documented.The other (ridiculous) extreme they talked about was the paparazzis. People with a camera that will become an intruder in anyone’s life for not precisely the right reasons.
Food for thought. Good weekend!