Ethics of accidental street shooting

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Poco, Sep 27, 2005.

  1. Poco

    Poco Member

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    It's 3:30 AM and you arrive at a dark underpass to take pictures of the graffiti on the walls. You haul out the camera, tripod, lens/film bag and it takes twenty minutes to line up the shot because the scene is dim, you're shooting LF, using some shift and tilt, etc... You're finally ready to expose some film when you decide one piece of trash in the foreground is particularly offensive and go to remove it ...only to realize with shock that there's a guy sleeping at the dark base of the wall.

    Bearing in mind the following, do you make the shot?:

    -- you're not a street shooter so this shot wouldn't contribute to, or be consistent with a larger body of work.

    -- while the guy could have no expectation of privacy, he'd certainly hoped for it by choosing this remote, dark spot. This is no park bench.

    -- the guy could just be faking sleep after all the noise you've made, hoping you won't spot him in the corner. In fact, he might have been laying there terrified for the past twenty minutes, is it right to put him through another forty minutes while you make your exposure with brackets, break down the gear, etc...?

    So what would you do?
     
  2. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I'd just leave him alone for this time, and try to come back to the scene when I have time, if that's possible. Provided you are doing night shooting, then you should actually have very similar light condition every night (I assume it's lit by streetlights).

    Despite people's sentiments to itinerants, I think we should at least be civil to them when there's no conflict. Of course he's not supposed to be there in the public space, but I'd leave the guy some rope because he's not threatening anyone or anything.
     
  3. Gerald Koch

    Gerald Koch Member

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    If he would not be not identifiable in the photograph then it is perfectly legal to include him in the picture if you so wish. This could be because he is facing away from camera, in deep shadow, etc.
     
  4. tim atherton

    tim atherton Inactive

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    whatever the legility of it, think of it this way - you have - in this case by acident - ended up in this guys bedroom. For whatever reason (many and varied), the only private space this guy happens to have is actually public space. Perhaps look at it that way.

    In fact this is how I regard most "street" photography that focuses on "street" people (and I know you came across this person by accident and they weren't the focus of the work). They are an easy target for photographers (in most cases, too easy, and rarely does the resulting work do justice to it's subject) - especially to those wanting to be "real" street photogs. But you are in effect photographing them in what is their home. If we look at it that way, I think most people with an ounce of decency probably wouldn't take the time to make (usually poor or cliched) photographs of such people.
     
  5. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    I'd just go on about my business - keep shooting that is. Treat him just as you would a friend or family member sleeping in another part of the house. Try to keep quiet and not disturb his sleep. You need not abandon your efforts though.

    Also, even if he is recognizable, you're both in a public place. I don't think there is any issue with him being in the photo. Either legally or esthetically. You can (likely) crop him out later if you wish.
     
  6. Paul Sorensen

    Paul Sorensen Member

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    I agree that legally you are fine since it is a public space. I also agree, however, that the guy deserves not to be exploited while he is sleeping there. I think that continuing to photograph is one thing, either cropping him out or shooting other parts of the underpass, but it does make me queasy if you "take advantage" of the situation to include him as an element of your photograph.
     
  7. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Interesting, and as I expected, diverse opinions.

    As it is, I packed up and left. What I don't know is whether I would have done the same under sunny-sixteen conditions where I could have squeezed off a quick shot and worried about what to do with it later.
     
  8. Wally H

    Wally H Member

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    Not a situation that has a simple answer of course. I think there is merit from most points of view; from "he has no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place", to those of the higher moral ground of right to privacy regardless of circumstances.

    One could also consider how the photograph is going to be used too. If you consider this issue, what argument would be used if one was going to remove the person from the image post exposure? Then is it wrong to make the exposure? I can see people then saying "yes", that it is the actual act of taking the photo that is the invasion of privacy and maybe morally wrong. That being the case, one can stretch the issue to say just looking at the person may be an invasion of privacy too.

    I think may come down to each individual's definition of what may or may not be morally correct and even how it is applied to each situation one might run into. The down sides to this are many of course. None of those except the one making the exposure know the true intent and values of the photographer and will make judgements based upon their own values, not the photographer's. It would be impractical in most circumstances to convey these things to each other... let alone agree.
     
  9. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    I would carry on, but if I disturbed him then I would offer to buy him a hot meal.
     
  10. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I think that for myself I probably would have not taken the photo, not out of any ethical qualm about including him in the picture (if he's sleeping in a darkened corner of the overpass, it would be easy enough to burn in the area on the photo to obscure him without causing any visual or aesthetic discontinuity) but more out of a sense of personal safety. If you're taking a photo with an exposure time running into the multiple minutes, he could wake up and wonder what you're doing, and not take a rational explanation for an answer. Many homeless people have been photographically exploited and intruded upon, and many have some degree of mental illness, so combine the perception of being made a subject of a photo against their will with a shortage of rational capacity and you've found yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. Heck, people who have homes and jobs and appear on the surface to be rational can get rather huffy if they THINK you're taking their picture.
     
  11. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    Nonsense. You give the person the same consideration that you would want to be gven IF you were in his shoes, ie homeless, hungry and seeking a private place to sleep undisturbed.
     
  12. Paul Sorensen

    Paul Sorensen Member

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    I agree. My wife and I got to talking about this thread and had an amazing conversation. It was hard to think of times when I could think of photographing a homeless person for my personal work without feeling like I was exploiting him/her. Even if I offer money in exchange for photographing them, they are not in much of a situation to make a rational choice and turn you down. I understand that a sensitive documentary is a different issue, in that it would be about trying to improve the situation of homeless people in general. However, in my mind, even a sensitive documentary tends to exploit the individuals in it and sort of short change their humanity.
     
  13. ouyang

    ouyang Member

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    Question I ponder upon a lot as streetphotography is "my thing"... for now I have decided
    that whatever it is I can say with my photo's does not outweigh the discomfort and "dehumanization" I impose on the subject. The person is first and foremost a human being and why should the pleasure I derive from taking a "nice shot" be more important than the respect every human deserves. I like streetphotography because to me it is the most interesting way of photographing emotions (on par with documentary photography), and photographing poor/disabled/destitute etc. people would imho be allowed if it fits into a well thoughtout criticism of society or a part thereof. Like a journalist could do, or an artist with a well thought out body of art who has created a way to open a dialogue with society. not me, showing his photo's to some friends and selling some "pretty" pics every now and then. Maybe in the future, but I would have to grow a lot... In your work (as you describe it) I don't see any justification for taking the shot and I think you did the respectable thing. I must say I did take shots I would now (after having given it more thought) not take.. But you live and learn..

    Kind regards,

    onno
     
  14. waynecrider

    waynecrider Member

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    In my fantasy I would give him $50 to let me spray paint him. In real life I'd just continue to shoot.
     
  15. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Yeah, spray painting the homeless has always been a fantasy of mine too. We need Sean to make us a sub-forum.
     
  16. Poco

    Poco Member

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    I went back to the same location last night and was shooting my first sheet when the guy showed up to go to bed. I gave him $5 to get a cup of coffee for an hour and he seemed pleased with the deal.

    Problem solved.