It bugged me and made me think

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by mark, Feb 23, 2006.

  1. mark

    mark Member

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    There is a photo I saw. It is not the subject that bugs me it is the location. The location is very sacred to the culture I am surrounded by everyday. I showed it to a very traditional man and his response was "I hope something bad happens to...." I asked why and was told that it was a sacred place and the picture made it not sacred it made it "small and unimportant".

    This got me thinking. When we go out to make photographs, do we take into account the cutlure of the area we are photographing? Living in the SW I am surrounded by many cultures with differing views of photography. I have to keep these in mind when I go out.

    Do you think we as photographers, artists, shadow catchers whatever you want to call yourself, have the obligation to respect the culture of the region/country we are in, or are we free to do what we want?

    Edit: This post was edited by the moderstors so no one be offended. So it makes sense I have edited it further.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 24, 2006
  2. ouyang

    ouyang Member

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    There is a very nice book written with different essays on photography as it is seen or has been received by "other" cultures. it is called "photography's other histories" and is very interesting: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3654/is_200406/ai_n9453292
    is a link to a description of the book.

    I think that this is closely connected to weighing the "damage" you might inflict taking photos of others (even in your own culture) against the "good" you intend your photos
    to do..

    every time you take a photo of a photo of someone this is a question you need to have straightened out in my view, and photographing someone from another culture (or places etc. belonging to another culture) only makes this a harder question to answer...

    Best,

    Onno
     
  3. david b

    david b Member

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    well I too live in the SW, santa fe to be exact, and it's hard not to photograph something that is scared.

    Between the Native American and Mexican cultures here, the only thing left to photograph is the Chamisa in my front yard. :smile:

    But that is why I love this place. Because it is so sacred.
     
  4. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    Good question Mark. I'm positive it varies for everyone.
    Their knowledge or ignorance of their subject has a bearing.
    And whether, if they are armed with understanding of the possible effects of taking their photographs, their own values and moral judgement are sufficient to temper their actions.

    I like to think my own values and cultural sensitivity are reasonably high. Perhaps NZer's generally don't like treading on the toes of other cultures. Experience photographing in other countries though; on occasions I've often employed an approach of shoot first and apologise afterwards. I simply wasn't armed with sufficient information about the circumstances other than knowing I could lose a great shot. I guess in these case fell into the ignorant basket. But out of the thousands of images made offshore, I've only been yelled at once, and photo didn't happen.

    I think core values of the photographer help in circumstances where a quick decision has to be made.
     
  5. Rlibersky

    Rlibersky Member

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    All of the Black Hills is sacred. It would be tough to be aware of all the possible offenses we make when taking photos. You have to go with your own heart on this one.
     
  6. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    Don't show your photos to the traditional man. What he doesn't know won't hurt him.
     
  7. mark

    mark Member

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    Avandesande,
    So you are saying you have the right to do what we want.
     
  8. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Yes, but just because the area is sacred to someone, doesn't mean they automatically are offended by someone photographing it. It never hurts to learn a little about the culture of an area you are going to visit; in fact, sometimes that can be just as rewarding as the actual photography itself. I agree with John, sometimes you have to just go with your gut feeling, but always be open to others sensitivities.
     
  9. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Restricted Access

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    g'day Mark
    maybe intent is the important consideration
    in a completely just/fair/equitable/non bigotted/nice world it would be that every individual was aware of and respectful to and for every other individual and group
    alas, in the real world, it is not possible to be aware of every nuance of belief and cultural significance
    any group or individual may well have a justifiable and long standing 'claim' to a place or thing, but should that stop another group or individual developing a claim or attachment to the same place or thing



    excellent question
     
  10. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    There are dozens of situations. Suppose I am in Morocco, and I take some fantastic photograph. In the photograph is someone who most likely would of hidden their face if they knew you are photographing since you will have captured their soul. Are you going to throw the negative in the trash? Are you going to take a print and show it to them? Are you just going to go home and treat it like any other photo?
     
  11. mark

    mark Member

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    In the case of the image I am refering to it is not that the place cannot be photographed but by what was in the image with it. That extra element belittled the "place".
     
  12. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    Not much you can do, like the guy down the street that won't cut their lawn.
     
  13. bobbysandstrom

    bobbysandstrom Member

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    John Sexton played a very interesting tape on his workshop in the southwest. A quote from that tape stuck with me as it was exactly what I was feeling as I drove thru from Monument Valley to Canyon de Chelly... just me and the land. Noone in sight! It was a very soothing ride to say the least.

    The quote was as follows:

    "The land belongs to everyone and to noone." That about sums it up. It is just as much your land as it is everyone elses. And it's just as much not your land as it is not everyone elses. Think about it... it was someone elses land long before the Indians got there! What does it matter if you photograph it? You take nothing away from the land when you do that. Just leave it like you found it.
     
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  15. roteague

    roteague Member

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    In other words, an object was brought in that was not normally part of the location. I would find that culturally insensitive - liking bringing a pig into a mosque. The photographer should have asked first, while researching the location.
     
  16. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Wrong. The Rez has all sorts of restrictions pertaining to photography. No matter what some nice sounding thoughts might say, it is their land, and is not public. In fact Mark wrote an article on the ins and outs of phtographing on the Rez. John obviously had obtained permits in advance of that workshop. In it he would have had to state what kinds of photos would be taken. The Tribe has every right to say no. If someone goes their on their own and takes phtographs without being senstive to the pervailing culture and then turns around and displays or even attempts to sell them, the tribe has the right to seek recourse for those actions. Not like you can sand on a public sidewalk or roadway in Canyon De Chelly and take a picture of the surroundings. It just shows the lack of understanding of the laws of that particular land.
     
  17. mark

    mark Member

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    RObert, I am inclined to agree with you.
     
  18. roteague

    roteague Member

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    In Australia they have placed restrictions on photographing Uluru (Ayer's Rock) for commercial purposes (including fine art) without a permit. A large portion of the rock is off limits to photography - that is why you only see images of the rock from a certain viewpoint.

    BTW, the picture of Uluru I use for my avartar wasn't taken by me, it came from Australia.com.
     
  19. jovo

    jovo Membership Council

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    This gets quite close to the dilemma of the cartoons of Mohammed that have so inflamed the Muslim world. I've seen them on line and think they, in their political and editorial sense at least, are funny and very much in the manner of our Western press's iconoclastic tradition. But, as everyone now knows, they are extremely culturally insensitive and inflamatory to those of that faith. What to do? Respect another culture's mores or carry on blithely with one's own?

    I've made the personal decision to avoid the imperialist legacy of insensitivity, and I say that despite a strong dislike for "political correctness" which, in its excesses, offends ME! However, were I informed that a potential photograph would be highly offensive to the culture it degrades, in that culture's own domain, I would absolutely refrain from making the image.

    Where I live there is a large and ubiqitous Hassidic Jewish community that generally eschews picture taking, but National Geographic Magazine did a splendid story on that group thirty years ago when they were situated in Brooklyn. The photographs were stunning, but they weren't made surruptitiosly. George Tice did an equally wonderful photographic essay on the Amish who are also not keen on being photographed, but that too was done with the consent of the community. Those are the ways to do it right.
     
  20. bobbysandstrom

    bobbysandstrom Member

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    I read the question to be one of a philosophical nature. In the grand scheme of things, on a philosophical level, what does it matter? The land is every much yours to photograph as it is their's to worship. I'm not talking about a holy place built by the hands of man, I'm talking a place built by a power greater than us all. Who is anyone to claim spiritual ownership? Now, should someone intentionally offend someone for no good reason? Of course not. The photo wouldn't carry the same emotion you intended to capture... if your intentions were good to start with.
     
  21. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    This question is very much like the court case we discussed a few days ago about the right of ownership of your face in public.

    Obviously there is no answer.

    It is all about ones moral obligation to themselves. If it offends someone but is legal then you have the choice. If it offends you then don't do it.

    To some people being offended is their goal in life.

    Recording, which is what we are doing, is neither right nor wrong, it just is. And neither creates nor destroys.


    Michael
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 23, 2006
  22. Maris

    Maris Member

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    I have had a photographic encounter with the sacred, I think. A while ago I lugged the 8x10 to a place called Granite Bay near where I live. It is a fantastic rockscape with monoliths, deep shadows, and crevasses; visually powerful and evocative. While I was setting up the camera a passer by admonished me for intruding into a place sacred to the old aboriginal tribes that used to live in the area about 100 years ago. The aborigines have been gone for a long time, no one left to offend, so I completed the photography and moved on.

    Later I realized that it may have been the dramatic and slightly eerie ambience of Granite Bay that told the ancient aborigines that it was a sacred place. Sacred places are rarely ordinary looking, or so it seems. The same ambience talking to me, a 21st century photographer, definitely insisted "Photograph Me". Perhaps for modern technological man the response to a spiritually powerful landscape is not to worship but to photograph.

    Photography itself may be akin to a sacrament. Consider first the difficult pilgimage, 8x10 on the back, photographer sweating in the sun, agonizing across steep topography to get to the site of power. Then a portable shrine, the 8x10 camera, is set up. Various obeisances and rituals are subsequently performed with a big dark cloth, spot-meter, filters etcetera. The final step is the offering. A large piece of expensive photographic film is ritually "burnt" in the portable shrine in supplication to the power of the subject matter.

    The ancient original worshipers are gone from many places in the world, not just most of Australia, but where they survive their priority should be respected. If the spirits of a place survive or accumulate power on the basis that someone pays homage to them then photographers must be preserving a lot of earth-magic. The spirits of Granite Bay seem not to mind photography. They have always treated me benignly and have invited me back many times.
     
  23. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    Okay folks, let's start again. I've tried to locate the point at which this thread went south and pretty much mass deleted from there, with the exception of Maris's particularly interesting post.

    This time, let's try not to personalize it, but keep it hypothetical and related to your own experiences, as I think the original poster intended. Even if the original post may have been a reaction to a particular image in the gallery, it was phrased carefully enough so that this thread should not be about any particular image in the gallery.
     
  24. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    Situations like this (photographing in "sensitive" areas) cause emotions to run high. Individuals always have their own ideas about what is "morally right" and often get quite combative/assertive about expressing them or imposing them on others. Fortunately societies are able to create laws which govern the behaviour of individuals where the rights of others are concerned.

    My personal philosophy would be to respect the law first, and try not to let whatever "moral values" I might be burdened with affect other peoples rights.

    Where law or title or right of way is not clear, then respect and negotiation are the only productive way to proceed and the two combined usually work wonders.

    My opportunity for imposing my moral values on others comes often enough and takes place at the ballot box.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 24, 2006
  25. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser

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    Sure is fun to continue to gang up and pick on the new, passionate and somewhat naive one, eh? Making all you people with nothing constructive to say feel like big, important people?

    You're starting to look like nothing more than schoolyard bullies.

    Grow up a little.

    <Edited by Mr Callow There is some truth in this statement that may be worth reading and then again maybe this is a lost cause>
     
  26. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    OK one more time...

    Please stay on topic, please respect each other, please give everyone, especially those you don't know the benefit of the doubt.