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Thread started 09 Mar 2019 (Saturday) 13:25
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Ethics and Photography

 
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Croasdail
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Mar 09, 2019 13:25 |  #1

I have been a photojournalist type of photographer for over 40 years now. I don't have an artistic bone in my body. I just like to capture events and tell stories through my images.

That is why the recent debate about the National Geographic photographer who took the Afghan Girl photo is interesting here. I wanted to have a broader discussion on it though. I get why the other thread was shut down... not interested in anyones personal politics.... but it is still a topic worth having. At the heart of the discussion on Tony's video blog was if the photo was honest, and its impact on a young girl. Was the act of photographing her "abusive".

What I find particularly interesting is two points.

1) Is shooting someones photo without their consent "abusive", particularly if they feel uncomfortable. I ran into this personally. I was working on a freelance project for Conde Nest while I lived in Seattle and they wanted some stock images of the area. At one point I was at a park on lake washington where kids were playing. Some of the mothers not knowing who I was became concerned and had the park ranger talk to me. I presented my credentials, he understood, but we agreed that I would come back when the park wasn't so full of kids to do the shoot at another time. I was not offended, a bit miffed I had to come back, but as a dad, I understood. I love street photography... and so I am confident that not everyone in the image wants to be in the image. In Florida I was yelled at by a man that thought I was photographing him. I walked over to him, showed him that he was incidentally to the image, and he was ok with it after. I have had people wave me off, and I accepted that. But honestly I have thousands of images of people whom have landed in my images that don't know they are their, and probably would prefer they were not. So where is the line there?

2) Fixing photos. Cameras have come a long way, but they still don't reproduce the same as the eye sees them. Every photo needs help getting to that point. To what point you can "fix" what the camera got wrong is an interesting debate. In certain cases, the answer is a clear nothing - or was nothing. The integrity of the photo is essential. And yet no shot is 100% honest. Through cropping we selectively show the scene. Through processing also shapes perception - best example of that is the OJ Simpson trial photos that were identical expect in processing, one much darker than the other. It obviously had a different tone to it, but photographically it was an "honest" representation. Every photo produced has a bias behind it from the photographer.

And that is what has me so perplexed by Tony Northrop's video. It seems he was acting surprised at how that image was created, and alluded to the fact that the image wasn't honest, and was almost abusive. Just about every journalistic image is an invasion into someone else's life. Almost every photograph needs to be "fixed" so it matches the photographers perception of those events - either by fixing photo dynamics - in processing - or in cropping. So there is a good debate needed about in today's world, what is an honest image. Is raising highlights and dropping shadows to hid the background making an image dishonest? Is having a mother hold a picture of her deceased son a dishonest image. She surely is grief stricken... is posing the image so that aspect highlighted or communicated dishonest.

Anyway, something to chew on. I would love to have a discussion about this - al be it a civil discussion I'm not sure there is a definitive answer here....


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Mar 09, 2019 15:08 |  #2

I’m not sure what the line is for journalistic photography. I have no experience in that field or genre. My interpretation of it would be more “documentary” , than “artful”.

As a nature/landscape photographer, I do process the pics to be “artful”. And, I probably exploit the honesty of the moment. I still use filters and equipment to produce a singe image. But, I expect people to be “inspired” enough to want to look at it on their wall. So, for me, I feel I have a certain latitude that other genres might not.

I think the honesty of a photo is all in how it is presented and represented.




  
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Mar 09, 2019 15:41 |  #3

The law seems to provide some basis for some of the issues...


  1. If you are in a private place, you can have an expectation of privacy
  2. If you are in a public space, you cannot expect privacy
  3. If your image is used for 'editorial' purpose, it can be used without your prior consent
  4. If your image is to be used for 'commercial' purpose (to promote a business/service/produ​ct) , it cannot be used without your prior consent


OTOH there is nothing that prevents a subject from asking you not to take their photo. There might be a legitimate reason why...like someone under federal witness protection under a new identify; there might be no reason at all, other than not liking their photo taken by anyone.

'Ethics' seems to deal with use in some dishonest or illicit manner. It certainly is not ethical to misrepresent a situation as something different from what it otherwise really is...like a photo of John Jones giving a friendly kiss of greeting to a long time friend, but having that photo captioned so that it seems to be a candid of John Jones kissing a lover on a secret rendevous.
But what about photographing something so it seems to be a dark forbiding situation, but it really was simply an underexposed shot...is that 'unethical'?! Was Ansel Adams unethical in altering a photo in the darkroom in dodging and burning in portions of the photo (doing the work himself in earleir years, or later in life guiding a darkroom worker printing the interpretation)

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Mar 09, 2019 16:32 |  #4

Croasdail wrote in post #18825964 (external link)
.... At the heart of the discussion on Tony's video blog was if the photo was honest, and its impact on a young girl. Was the act of photographing her "abusive".
.....

And that is what has me so perplexed by Tony Northrop's video. It seems he was acting surprised at how that image was created, and alluded to the fact that the image wasn't honest, and was almost abusive. Just about every journalistic image is an invasion into someone else's life. Almost every photograph needs to be "fixed" so it matches the photographers perception of those events - either by fixing photo dynamics - in processing - or in cropping. So there is a good debate needed about in today's world, what is an honest image. Is raising highlights and dropping shadows to hid the background making an image dishonest? Is having a mother hold a picture of her deceased son a dishonest image. She surely is grief stricken... is posing the image so that aspect highlighted or communicated dishonest.

Anyway, something to chew on. I would love to have a discussion about this - al be it a civil discussion I'm not sure there is a definitive answer here....

I guess I came away with a different perspective. I got the sense that it was more that the photo was not an accurate portrayal of of an event but a staged scene which was then applied to a pre-defined narrative (a.k.a fake news using today's vernacular). I would think that as a photo-journalistic one would strive to tell the story of what is really happening as it happens. It's like that famous Iranian missile photo. The original was not dramatic enough so someone added a few missiles or the Oprah TV Guide cover where someone put Oprah's head on Ann Margaret's body. Doing things like that for art or for fun is fine. Doing it and calling it a news story is not.


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Mar 09, 2019 17:11 |  #5

Croasdail wrote in post #18825964 (external link)
2) Fixing photos. Cameras have come a long way, but they still don't reproduce the same as the eye sees them. Every photo needs help getting to that point.

I would disagree with this statement. A photo may not convey to ourselves the emotional impact that it had when we took the shot, but that only means our emotions, being transient as they are, were inaccurate. The other way to go would be to enhance the drama of the photo to recreate that impact, but now we are creating an image of a scene rather than reporting it.

We can simplify the debate by qualifying the nature of the communication. Are we reporting events or are we trying to convince the audience of a certain viewpoint? In the former, we are being a reporter, and in the later we are being a pundit.

Grey areas? Of course. Crop a shot to focus on the subject matter? Necessary. Crop a shot to remove a contradictory element in the story? That's not reporting, that is manufacturing data. In that line of thought, it is not so different from a salesman sharing certain data to drive a sale. They may withhold contradictory data to convince their client of a purchase opportunity, and the purchaser should be aware of the salesman's bias. As consumers of the news, we would like to think that we are getting the real story, but I suspect that all too often it is a person who believes their will to be good and is therefore morally obligated and permitted to steer the story rather than tell it like it is. And then we are left with fake news. Bring this back to the original question, should we fix photos? Nope!


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Croasdail
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Mar 09, 2019 19:05 |  #6

So this begs the question, what was the point of the article? Does anyone remember? The young lady wasn't taken to a different location. She didn't change what she was wearing. What narrative was changed by her moving to another part of the room to get a cleaner background, and asked to show her face. Was her photo creating a different narrative than what was actually going on. I don't know... I haven't found a complete issue to read the article itself.

Is asking the subject of a journalistic story about what-ever to move over so that the image of them doesn't have a power poll sticking out of their head creating a false image? Can you ask the subject to move to another part of the room for better lighting creating a false image? Does using a flash constitute changing the scene? Is any manipulation of the scene, moving a chair, turning on a light, asking someone to move out of the scene who is not the subject... Is that creating a false image...? Does the image need to be spontaneous to be real.

When does a photo create a lie?


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Mar 09, 2019 19:32 |  #7

Croasdail wrote in post #18826150 (external link)
The young lady wasn't taken to a different location. She didn't change what she was wearing. What narrative was changed by her moving to another part of the room to get a cleaner background, and asked to show her face.

Showing her face did require her to change what she was wearing. In her regional ethnic group, it was customary to cover her face in public. The point was made that she was frightened by having to deal with a strange man.

Is asking the subject of a journalistic story about what-ever to move over so that the image of them doesn't have a power [pole] sticking out of their head creating a false image? Can you ask the subject to move to another part of the room . . . ?

It depends. If you were assigned to a crime scene and photographed a suspect being arrested who happened to be in front of a power pole, I don't imagine you'd ask the arresting officer to take off the handcuffs and reenact the arrest six feet to one side. From posts I remember on POTN, a reputable news publisher wouldn't allow you to clone out the pole. However, if your subject is the Mother of the Year or your city's youth soccer team, you're free to choose backgrounds and try different poses.


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Mar 09, 2019 19:38 |  #8

For me, the biggest no-no is creating a narrative that isn't true, for cynical reasons. The 'lie' can be in the image (sometimes through image manipulation) or in an accompanying story, such as in journalism. Photos are often (mis)used in this way. An example might be a journo claiming that a politician is angry about an opponent's policy, and puts an image alongside the story, of the politician apparently snarling - when the photo was taken months or even years previously and so totally unconnected to the alleged 'anger'. Of course, they won't provide a caption saying this; they want us to believe that the politician was snarling at his opponent.

Jokes, novels, movies, fables, poems, paintings and photos could all be 'lies' to some degree. There's only an issue when the motivation behind the 'lie' is negative - to damage another person, for greed or unearned personal gain.

Sadly, another area that has recently become infected with this behaviour is documentaries. There have been many examples lately of doco-makers staging events or situations that actually didn't happen, sometimes simply to boost audience numbers, sometimes for political reasons. Once upon a time, not so long ago, we could watch a documentary and believe what we saw and heard. Not so today.


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Croasdail
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Mar 09, 2019 20:56 |  #9

OhLook wrote in post #18826160 (external link)
Showing her face did require her to change what she was wearing. In her regional ethnic group, it was customary to cover her face in public. The point was made that she was frightened by having to deal with a strange man.

Actually I talked to a chap that I have worked with and he said it is not customary for girls her age to be covered. It is only required with then become of age, or get married. Now she might have been being shy and covered herself in front of a stranger... but young girls are not required to cover themselves.


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Mar 09, 2019 21:07 |  #10

Croasdail wrote in post #18826198 (external link)
Actually I talked to a chap that I have worked with and he said it is not customary for girls her age to be covered.

If he's correct, what I read was wrong. It may have been in a comment on the video, I don't remember.


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Mar 09, 2019 21:25 |  #11

My understanding is that, in Muslim communities where strict female dress codes are in place, they must adopt whatever the local form is (hijab, niqab, burqa, etc) when they reach puberty.


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Croasdail
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Mar 11, 2019 15:52 as a reply to  @ Spencerphoto's post |  #12

It varies... just like in Christianity and Judaism, there are variations within the faith. I am sure there are some that are more strict - particularly in the tribal areas - but in more metropolitan areas like in Turkey, Istanbul specifically and Dubai, a head scarf is enough.

And I give Tony a lot of latitude here, he is not a journalist, and was just publishing his own opinion. But what you take a photo of is of great debate, and how you take it. On assignment in SouthbySouthwest in Austin, I came on a guy he had gotten so drunk, he was asleep right in the middle of the sidewalk. Of course the thought go as a person first, do I get him help, and how. Second, do I take a picture of it... and if so, how. I ended up calling for help, and taking a picture of him, but from an angle where you couldn't see his face, and then made the image BW so he wasn't identifiable. Lots of grey area involved.

Street photography is all the rage, and while I enjoy it, I am less and less prone to take a picture of someone unless they know Im doing it. And the quality of my images is so much better now. And I don't feel like I am stealing something from them. Anyways.... In cuba I was taking pictures of some locals, they noticed, and asked to look at my camera... thought they wanted to see what I had taken, but rather they took pictures of me, then we took pictures together... ended up being lots of fun. But it doesn't always work out like that...


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Mar 11, 2019 16:04 |  #13

In my street photography, I just photoshop some nondescript person's face in for everyone not part of the subject being shot so that nobody is as they appeared and cannot get mad at me, yet I still get the shot. :D

Just need that next "Some Random Face" filter in LR/Photoshop to do the work for me, much like the healing brush, but the face brush.


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Mar 11, 2019 21:43 |  #14

TeamSpeed wrote in post #18827192 (external link)
In my street photography, I just photoshop some nondescript person's face in for everyone not part of the subject being shot so that nobody is as they appeared and cannot get mad at me, yet I still get the shot. :D

Just need that next "Some Random Face" filter in LR/Photoshop to do the work for me, much like the healing brush, but the face brush.

Yeah, I noticed how all the folks in the background of your street shots wear an identical beard, including the women ...


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Mar 11, 2019 21:59 |  #15

Croasdail wrote in post #18826198 (external link)
Actually I talked to a chap that I have worked with and he said it is not customary for girls her age to be covered. It is only required with then become of age, or get married. Now she might have been being shy and covered herself in front of a stranger... but young girls are not required to cover themselves.

Spencerphoto wrote in post #18826204 (external link)
My understanding is that, in Muslim communities where strict female dress codes are in place, they must adopt whatever the local form is (hijab, niqab, burqa, etc) when they reach puberty.

True. And in fact you will see schoolgirls in what I would describe as western-style outfits (skirts, long socks, arms, legs and hair showing), in many places in the middle east and accompanied by an adult in full burka.

I must admit, I'm not sure exactly at what age you must be covered, not do I know how old the lady was in the photo. I don't think I've ever seen anyone obviously older than about 13 without some covering.


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