Is there anything you wouldn't photograph?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by TPPhotog, Nov 7, 2004.

  1. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    In keeping with my signature I see potential pictures everywhere but also morally there are some things that I refuse to photograph.

    Road accidents - If I can help I stop, if I can't then I drive past. I'd never make a staff photographer.

    Also over the road from me there is a very useful graveyard that I use often for shoots. However one section is dedicated to childrens graves and like today I look out of the window to see morning relatives attending the grave. The pictures would be moving and tell a story in their own right, but I cannot bring myself to intrude on their grief.

    So my question is what pictures would you turn your back on and walk way?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 7, 2004
  2. Max Power

    Max Power Member

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    I have actually given this some thought too.
    Like you, road carnage, is for me taboo. A couple of years ago when I was in Bosnia, our Road Safety expert gave a briefing to all of my drivers about the hazards of driving in the Balkans. In order to raise awareness, he used a number of photographs which featured not only the vehicles but also the individuals who had been implicated in these accidents. Although I had no problem with the mangled vehicles, I found that what distressed me was the photos with mangled bodies.
    What bothered me was that I felt that the dignity of the people in these photos had been 'betrayed'. As such, I would never be able to photograph road carnage.

    Further, I could not bring myself to photograph someone else's grief. Again, it's (for me) a question of maintaining the dignity of the individual.

    Guess that I'd be a crappy photo-journalist too :wink:

    Kent
     
  3. jim kirk jr.

    jim kirk jr. Member

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    Nothing that dosn't interest me....
     
  4. photomc

    photomc Member

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    You mean other than myself :D - Seriously Tony, I went through the same thoughts last year when my Mother died. She was in hospice for a day before she finally passed and the whole family was there with her. In a way it was like a big family get together - the sort of thing she always enjoyed, the kind where cameras come out and pictures are made. There were many great shots to be made, face's that were full of sadness and full of hope, we ran all of the emotions that families have during these time. Why didn't I do it - easy, I could not intrude on each persons grief - nor would I.

    Earlier this year was at the cemetery to visit Mom's grave and saw a very touching site, would have been a very strong photo - an older man, probably visiting his wifes graveside was there, cowboy hat in his hand, you could see how much he missed her from his body language - but again, No I would not take this photo.

    Some things are just to personal, others should not be done - do we really need to see photos of a car wreck, accident scene - I've seen all the gore i ever want to see and don't need photo's to remind me.
     
  5. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Jim you've not seen me in the flesh that would put you off taking a shot :D

    But seriously folks so far I think we are feeling along the same lines here. I think some grief is too personal and as Mike says I've seen all the gore I want without having photo's of it.

    Maybe if the grief captured in photographs would make a difference then the stakes change. Pictures of events going on around the world such as floods, famine and desasters are acceptable to me because hopefully we are bringing a need for help to the world at large. But natural death or accidents where there is nothing that can be done the pictures have no value other than a personal capture.

    (PS ... Just noticed editing my typo's I lost a paragraph which is now back in, but happily Max read it before I lost it).
     
  6. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    Similar thoughts here. Buildings, cars and such can be photographed at their worst, but not people. For me, a photograph that would intrude upon or diminish a person's dignity is a photo not taken.

    But, I also think it depends on the purpose behind the image. Photojournalism that is meant to inform should have wide latitude, I think, but if the intent is only to sensationalize or exploit, it cheapens both the photographer and the craft.
     
  7. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    I agree with Ralph Barker's answer. Photojournalism has the potential for noble purpose and should tell stories that don't shirk the less pleasant aspects of life, death and grief.

    My contribution to the question, as a father: any naked child who has passed his/her 2nd birthday.
     
  8. jim kirk jr.

    jim kirk jr. Member

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    Tony I think you found a subject that I would not want to make an image of....
    I do agree with the posts ahead of me here-morality,a sense of right and wrong needs
    to come into play whenever there is a question as to whether an image should be made
    or not.I wouldn't want to be the photographer who was being labeled as the,"he'll do anything to get the shot"....you need to be able to look in the mirror and not see an
    a-hole.
     
  9. rusty_tripod

    rusty_tripod Member

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    The determining factor would be morality. Unfortunately, we do not all define morality in the same way. Sometimes a decision is made based upon the highest moral intent only to have it rejected by individuals who did not want to face the moral issue presented or addressed. What an individual would accept under one circumstance fails under another.

    An example to give would be that of the deceased being returned from Iraq. One person wants to censor the event. Another wants to use it to make a vailid point.

    I guess my determining factor would be that feeling in the pit of my stomach, labeling something right or wrong or necessary to be done for the higher good. While I hold no desire to harm another individual mentally, spiritually, physically, or emotionally, I believe that the role of the photojournalist (and sometimes the innocent bystander with the camera) is to help us face that which disturbs, confronts, or frightens us and causes us to turn a deaf ear or withhold a helping hand to needs around us. Unfortunately, we are so readily bombarded with images of violence, war, and destruction from so many varied causes, that we as a society tend to be thick skinned and disconnected. It takes a lot to affect or motivate us.

    Rusty
     
  10. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Intrusion onto people's privacy - their private space even if they are in public (except as in crowds).
    Sexual acts - don't mind commiting them but not commiting them to film.
    Violence - man against man or animal.
     
  11. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    It's kind of interesting, but what a lot of people have said here is ironically, Pulitzer prize winning photography.

    So does that say, for lack of better word (I apologize) you don't have the stomach for highly charged, highly dramatic recording of the human condition.

    Further does that mean that you think that a lot of the Pulitzer prize work is invasive or intrusive into too private moments.

    I think that sometimes if we were to record moments that you have mentioned and looked at it in a longer range context we could be telling a very important story.

    I came back and added this line:

    Is part of the problem in taking these photographs the fact that you wouldn't want to take them or that you wouldn't want anybody to SEE you taking, for the obvious reason that they may think you an insensitive jerk. Is it a fact that you would like to capture this type of emotionally charged image just that you couldn't deal with the confrontation from bystanders?

    Perhaps this is interestingly why a lot of the great ones we've all seen were done with virtually silent rangefinders.

    Michael
     
  12. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    This is a very intriuging thread and I agree with avoiding making photographs of people in church yards. I am not particularly religious but I do feel that those visiting church yards to pay respect or just be near to a lost loved one should be able to do so in privacy and peace. However, in recent years I have made photographs of small detail and abstract shapes in one or two old church yards that I know of, one in Edinburgh is full of wonderful images.

    I take a different view from some on reportage, that is, I believe that all serious photographers should make photographs of things like crashes, bombings etc and make the judgement as to whether or not to publish them when the film is processed after the event. In doing this I feel that you make the decision at a time that you are not emotionally involved in the actual incident. My guide line is to ask myself the questions "would I want to see my mother or any loved one in such an image", and "can this photograph change anything". Clearly there is still much soul searching to be done but thus far in my photographic life I feel that I have generally made the right decision when faced with the dilemma. If I don't use the image I destroy the negative.

    I know that three other Apugers were at a Trowbridge in Wiltshire last week where I did a talk on my photography, the other two speakers were Kathy Harcom who recently joined us, and Denis Thorpe a long time photo journalist for the Guardian. Denis has worked in many hell holes in his career and his pictures have been seen many times on the front page of the newspaper and he never flinched in making the most powerful images of horror. The most powerful, in my opinion is the series made with a 20ml lens of a grieving father carrying the coffin of his 6 month old child from the church to the grave. Denis genuinely believes that his photography helped the situation.
     
  13. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    I interpreted the question as to what I personally would not take pictures of; not whether I approved of others taking such pictures. Photo-journalism just isn't my thing; but I certainly approve those who take powerful pictures that thereby might amelioarate the human condition. And its not a question of avoiding confrontation ( could always get a Leica or cell-phone camera), just would hope for the same from others.
     
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  15. roteague

    roteague Member

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    I primarily shoot landscapes, and I generally avoid shooting images that I feel don't reflect the beauty and majesty of the natural world.
     
  16. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    The question of eithics, or morality, is always a difficult one, when ever I choose to hit the shutter button, I have in the back of my mind, am I helping, hurting or just plain intruding? That is very difficult, as we all have different perspective, based on the emotion of the situation at hand, over the course of time, our perceptions of things will change, and they can change quickly...

    Documentation, of events can and will continue to be important, these can be important images.

    I have to say, my choice or non-choice to document an event, an emotion or a moment, will always be dictated by the feelings I have at the time.

    I spent a great amount of time last year documenting the summer of fire, here in Montana, it was a gut hurting experiance, but I felt was needed, and has benefited many different management organizations, needed images, that brought tears to my eyes more than once....would I do it again....I really don't know...

    Like I said, ethics and morality, are always difficult and we as humans, may never find the answer to this very important question.

    Dave Parker
    Ground Glass Specialties.
    Satin Snow(TM) Ground Glass
     
  17. Stephen J. Collier

    Stephen J. Collier Member

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    I wouldn't film anyone having sex; that much is easy for me to answer.

    As to the question of photojournalism, I think that a good P.J. will understand the difference between the exploitable, sensationalized image (i.e., the paparazzi) and the photo that needs to be taken in order to bring to light a conflict or corrupt situation that has been overlooked by the rest of the world (i.e., genocide, famine or disasters that are the result of one group of human beings exploiting other human beings or a natural environment). As to my personal ability, or should I say desire, to be photojournalist, I would do it in a second if I didn't have a wife and 8 month old son.
    As the old cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. I am not the greatest writer so don't think I could ever be a journalist, but I still have this desire to expose what I feel is so wrong and brutal in this world. I like how James Nachtwey describes his photography, he call himself an Anti-War photographer. I am beginning to digress here, but I guess this has been my two cents.

    Good thread, it has definitely been a topic that I have thought a lot about in the last year or so.
     
  18. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    Michael said: " . . . what a lot of people have said here is ironically, Pulitzer prize winning photography"

    True. But, Pulitzer prize-winning work is (almost exclusively) by definition "photojournalism meant to inform".

    "Further does that mean that you think that a lot of the Pulitzer prize work is invasive or intrusive into too private moments."

    Again, yes. But I think the underlying purpose and intent of the image usually transcends the intrusion.

    Personally, which I believe was the root of the question as posed, I'm not a photojournalist, so I lack that context in which to work, and have the luxury of choosing my subject matter accordingly. Thus, I have the option of concentrating on what I see as the beauty of things, rather than life at it's ugliest or most painful. If, however, I were to stumble on an event of great social significance, I'd have no problem with shooting the blood, guts, gore and tears - and would assume that I could subsequently publish the work appropriately.

    Perhaps I'm the fuddiest of duddies, but I rather like the ethics of yesteryear when some things "just weren't done" - out of respect and what was then considered common decency.
     
  19. Stephen J. Collier

    Stephen J. Collier Member

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    Sorry I have one more thing to mention.

    I think that it might be possible that photographers whether they are P.J.s, Art, or commercial photographers just don't see eye to eye and have never seen eye to eye on the nature of their work. I remember hearing a quote from Cartier-Bresson, in which he said (I am paraphrasing here) "the earth is falling apart, and Adams and Weston are out there shooting rocks."

    It obvious that he felt Adams and Weston should be concentrating on subjects that were more of a pressing social nature and although I may not totally agree with him, I think it illustrates a point. It’s hard for those of us who have dedicated our photography to such different subjects and goals to understand those who have seemingly gone in an opposite direction and therefore we might be inclined to view one type of photography as lower or less relevant than others.
     
  20. BWGirl

    BWGirl Member

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    Hey Tony!
    Yo know I was recently faced with a dilemma of sorts concerning this very idea. My son is a volunteer firefighter and their assistant fire chief died of a heart attack during a big fire that involved at least 10 local fire departments. The day of the funeral, he called me and said I should come down to the fire station because they had fire trucks there from over 15 different departments and a flag between two ladder trucks.
    Well, I went, but I did go to the chief first and ask his permission. I shot a roll of film and selected two photos...one of the flag between the trucks, and one of the guys in my sons fire department. I wrote a poem (it's in my journal) and matted & framed the poem and the two photos. My son presented it to the Chief to hang in the firehouse. He and all the other guys were so pleased with it.
    So good can come out of some bad....accidents...nope, I could not do that. War/carnage photography...same thing.
     
  21. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Tony's original question is
    So my question is what pictures would you turn your back on and walk way?


    I would wonder further the WHY? As I touched on earlier, is the WHY because you think it's wrong or intrusive or is the WHY, fear on your part.

    It has been mentioned often on a lot of post that many people fear taking portaits, or are uncomfortable taking pictures of people and it may sort of boil down to fear. Fear of being the center of attention, or fear of having eveybody looking at you.

    Granted lots of people on this site are perfectly happy taking weekend pictures of scenics and that's great. But there are also lots of people on this site who would love to be award winning highly paid photographers.

    Much like lawyers, many go into wills, and corporate law because they are essentially afraid to become the Johnny Cochranes and Gerry Spences of the world tearing up the criminal court rooms. But I bet many fantacize about being the top guys.

    So my point is, is fear of stepping up and showing yourself taking these controversial photographs, what is really stopping you from doing it?

    It is fear that makes you walk by instead of stopping and pulling out your camera and recording these gut wrenching events.

    Believe me, I'm not saying that this fear is bad, good or indifferent, but could it be the motivation.

    Just wondering.


    Michael
     
  22. Stephen J. Collier

    Stephen J. Collier Member

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    Mr. Blansky you make a very good point. I know that I personally feel really uncomfortable and even embarrassed taking out my camera in a street (read public)atmosphere and taking pictures. It is something that I am trying to get over. I think part of my early draw to being a photographer is that I can behind that camera and not in front of it.
     
  23. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    The Fear Thing

    There may be cases where "fear" of doing a different style of work comes into play. Many people prefer to stay within their personal "comfort zones". Others constantly venture out into new, unexplored (by them) territory. Even if they aren't particularly good at the new thing, they enjoy the trip.

    My observation has been that different jobs require different personality types to do the job well. The will-writing lawyer probably doesn't have the personality needed to be a go-for-the-throat courtroom crusader. I think different photographic styles fall into the same sort of category. So, while I think it's good to stretch, to push one's personal envelope, it's also good to recognize one's own personality type, and be happy with that.
     
  24. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Interesting how this thread is progressing and a quick thank you for your contributions, hopefully we will see more opinions coming in. This is what happens when I get thoughtful watching the world whilst my negatives are drying.

    Reading through the Reason and Use seems to be the main points. I hadn't considered the Cartier-Bresson quote which Stephen posted even though I'm familiar with it. Although would a landscape photographer consider shooting something which might be considered a story if they fell over it? One story of an accident was published in the local paper shot on medium format as it was a fashion photographer driving past a few minutes after the accident happend.

    I feel that in a small way that honour is still alive and displayed by people here, which is theoretically a good sample of people throughout the globe. I say that because in many cases it appeasrs we would only use the pictures for the reason that they would possibly help to bring about change or intervention.

    I hadn't considered the idea of get the shot and then decide if it can be used positively. But then as Michael (Blansky) points out I'd need those "virtually silent rangefinders" to get them without intrusion which I don't.

    Michael I would (and have) walk away if I thought it the pictures would just be a for a few Pounds / Dallars / Euro's in my pocket. Fear doesn't come into the equation as I've been through so many dangerous things in life. I get a kick out of shooting demonstrations and riots ... blame 4 years in the police for that, but a very valid question never the less.

    I still wouldn't take the shots of the relatives tending the childrens graves though, as there is no valid reason to from my perspective.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 7, 2004
  25. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Jeanette what you did here was beautiful :wink:
    __________________


    I'm out of my comfort zone with street shoots which is one of the reasons I do them. I enjoy the challenge and recording local life if for no other reason than the fact of capturing it. Reportage is different for me though as there is usually a reason and I have the magic words that means people let me get on with shooting where others may not be able to. They are Freelance and Herald (the local paper).
     
  26. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    Personally I tend to hide from reality based images. Photography is a happy place for me. I do have a lot of respect for the situations Journalist photographers put themselves into and admire their ability to accomplish heartfelt stories with their images but cannot do it myself. Recently my neices husband came home from Iraq part a marine contingent who had lost 17 of its group. I was there with camera in on my shoulder, saw shots everywhere I turned yet did not have the guts to invade their space.
    I have no respect for papparazzi and would never photograph sex.