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Ethics of Photography




The conversation of ethics regarding photography is very difficult to have. With so many ethical, philosophical and political conversations, there will always be multiple viewpoints and methodology - with a certain amount of logic stemming from each one. Everyone contributing to the these types of conversations come from their own separate walks of life with very different baggage - regardless of how similar they may seem to one another. Sometimes there is simply no right or wrong answer. Just opinion and preference. Sure, the majority opinion can be a good way to measure if something is right, however, that is not always the case. That is why throughout all of history there has always been division - both in micro and macro groups of people. Sometimes viewpoints and beliefs change within a person causing them to switch back and forth between the vast variables of opinions. The same inner conflict among individuals and masses can be applied to conversations regarding the ethics of photography.


Personally, I go back and forth. With so many photos capturing so many different moments in time throughout all of history, it is hard to come up with a personal set of philosophical/ ethical guidelines that can be blanketed across each photographic circumstance. The good that is caused for the masses because of a photograph of one mishap may lead a stream of logic supporting its legitimacy and "good intent" of taking the photo. However, who is to say that the masses are more important than the life of an individual - sometimes young and innocent children. Could some of these mishaps have been avoided if the photographer was allocating time to prevent or react to the crises happening while detached from the camera and mindset of capturing the moment? Who knows. To judge the actions of the photographer leading up to the click of the camera is hard to do, especially when there is little context and only the photo to show.


Does the respect for life and privacy outweigh the benefits to society that a potential photograph could imprint through publication? That is another thing to consider.


The image below raises all of the previously mentioned thought process/questions. It shows two girls falling from a fire escape balcony. The 19 year old girl sadly died, however, she was able to break the fall for the 3 year old who survived. The photographer won a prize for the photo and the photo helped pass legislation to increase structural security for future fire escapes. Since this photo was shot on film, it would have been hard for the photographer to not have seen the events unfold before the fall. Even still, was there anything he could have done to prevent it from happening?

Another image to examine is a more recent add, motivated by political and advertising opionions. It is of Colin Kapernick - an NFL player who recently refused to stand for the national anthem. Kapernick was let go from the team he is playing for on reports that he was simply not good enough. Many speculate that he was let go because of his politcal views.





Both of the above images are legally able to exist but many question the ethical/political/moral capabilities to exist. The Kapernick photo is one example of thousands of photos used to politically influence voters and masses to support a certain political movement or in this case specifically to influence potential customers - as this photo was used for a Nike ad. Personally, I think ANY type of political photography should exist and should be encouraged to be published. I think the Repsonsibility is on society to become self aware to recognize the source from which it comes, and use critical thinking to understand its motives. Once the motives are discovered, then all symbolism and subliminal messaging can be deciphered - eliminating its influence based on mere visuality and publication. The freedom for photographers to attempt to impact political structure should always be supported in my opinion.


As for the other image and images similar to it I feel like there is not enough information to make a judgement as to if it should have been taken and then published be published or not. Currently, overall I think that it is what it is.


The real question is how many photographs were NOT taken because someone chose to intervene in a situation instead of take a picture?


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