Times when photos shouldn't be taken

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by nc5p, Aug 31, 2007.

  1. nc5p

    nc5p Member

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    I was coming home on the SW Chief (Amtrak) today. Around 10:00 AM a Laguna man (Indian/Native American tribe) either pushed or chased another onto the tracks in front of the speeding train. We were stopped for four hours while tribal officials, FBI, NTSB, etc. investigated. The body was strewn all over. Someone in the seat nearby said something about taking a picture. I told them not to, that for one thing the cops were right outside and could see them, and for another it would be a very untasteful thing to do. The man got mad at me. Should I have kept my mouth shut? I am all for photographers' rights but for one thing it was tribal land we were on. It was also one of their own that was killed. Out of respect I didn't think it was proper at all. He never took any pictures in the end but made more sarcastic comments to me. He was from Tennessee and probably doesn't know much about the various customs of this part of the country.
     
  2. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I'd say it was tasteless regardless of location/ethnicity of the folks involved. Unless you're with the media, or a police forensic photographer, you don't photograph that. That to me would be only slightly less offensive than collecting body parts as souvenirs in a war zone. As a journalist, I think you have the obligation to take the proverbial Eddie Addams shot or the Nick Uy photo of the napalmed girl. But that's different, because you're under an observe-and-record obligation.
     
  3. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    Well said, Scott.

    Absolutely this is a situation where making photos would not be proper. The only exception I can see would be if the photos would aid an investigation. But clearly this wasn't one of those situations.
     
  4. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    that's a tough one nc

    i'd have been tempted to photograph the effective of the incident rather than the incident itself

    how does one explain or understand the Edward Weston image of the dead man in the desert? how does this image fit into Weston's body of work?

    Ray
     
  5. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    The most important part of this question, is that it is a question that needs to be addressed.

    Some times, the image to be captured is so important, that the need to capture it is more important than the sensibilities that will most likely be imposed upon by taking and sharing the photograph.

    I expect that this example is one that doesn't need a photograph, but there may be photographs available, in and about the periphery, that would be so valuable as to mandate that they be taken.

    I think that any time you are dealing with an absolute tragedy, there has to be something special, of general pubic concern, before it is appropriate to take and publish an image.

    There may, however, be important information to share about the aftermath. Those who are connected to the story, and are willing to share it, may very well be the subject of something that is photographically special. I would just be sure to have their written consent/release.

    Matt
     
  6. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Often, that ACT of photographing makes people feel in control -- even if the photographs made are ever viewed. The psychologies in play are hard to truly fathom.
     
  7. Stephen Frizza

    Stephen Frizza Member

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    ok I dont mean to sound macabre but when i was 20 i was present for the a public murder of a man. I had my camera with me and im not quite sure of my thought process during the killing but all I could do was photograph it.

    I have never publicly shown these images and they sit quietly in my files. (the police were informed by me that ide shot the incident) I've printed some of the images and I am totally disconnected from the event. I see the images but i Dont feel as though i shot them.


    In saying this I dont feel the above situation is appropriate, it seems ghoulish and voyeuristic of a misfortune, however the same might be said about what I shot? I guess the mind can be a funny thing in new extreme situations which present themselves.


    ~steve
     
  8. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I think your situation is a bit different - you were witnessing the event take place. This was an after-the-fact voyeuristic gawking. If you are a witness and/or a party to an event, you have license to photograph it, or at least a greater license to photograph it than someone who comes along later and says, "oh wow- cool bloodsplatter!" . This guy, even though he was riding in the train that hit the guy, isn't observing the same way. He was't there taking photos and captured the event as it happened.
     
  9. catem

    catem Member

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    I'm not sure it's so easy to make that distinction. In fact, you could argue that if you are present there is even less reason for photographing the shot (unless, under certain limited conditions, as a photojournalist). If you are present there is always the sense that you could perhaps be doing something about it, or at least, if that's really not possible, absenting your interest in and engagement with the situation as a 'voyeur'.

    I don't necessarily condemn or judge - we do strange things under duress, and taking photographs can be a coping mechanism. Doesn't mean it's a good thing, or the best that could be done in that situation.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 1, 2007
  10. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    yes- it's always an ethical dilemma, to take photos and serve as a witness, or to put down the camera, become a participant, and influence the outcome of the event. Never an easy answer.
     
  11. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    The basic problem in these kinds of situations is that we deem others' behaviour inappropriate only because we are making assumptions (often incorrectly) about why said behaviour is happening. To my mind - I would hope that the individual with this behaviour is thinking conscientiously at all times about what they're doing - and not harming themselves or anyone else. That's where I'd draw the line. If someone's CLEARLY being exploited or hurt - I'd really have to step in and say something.
     
  12. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    nc5p:

    if you had been in england, or france, or india, or brazil, or the central african republic
    and someone was struck by a train, hit by a bus rolled in their car, or a large animal was
    struck would you have thought the same things ?

    is it because you were on tribal land you didn't want this person to take a
    photograph, are there laws there that forbid photography?
    was it because you thought it was distasteful to photograph things "like that" ?

    what does being from tennessee have to do with the way he acted?
    i am sure there are plenty of car and train accidents there,
    and people rubber-neck and photograph accident scenes as they do everywhere else.

    sorry, i don't mean to sound insensitive, or contentious, i am trying to figure out
    where you are coming from.
     
  13. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    We've gotten much more tabloid as a society. When I was first a TV news photographer and editor 25-years ago, you simply did not show bodies. You tried not to shoot them, but frequently got them while shooting an otherwise newsworthy scene. On certain very rare occasions there was some reason to show the video, but we always gave plenty of warning so the viewers could turn away if they wanted.

    Now, at least in the US, it's different. News programs seem to think nothing of showing bodies or anything else.

    Along the same vein, there's a criminal case working it's way through the courts here in Florida - two teenagers were legally having sex. They videotaped themselves. Now prosecutors are charging them with possession of kiddie porn because they have the video.

    I think it all goes to how photographed we are now - from birth. It used to be that one took a young baby to a professional photographer for a sitting. Then came more efficient home cameras, and babies were photographed at only a few days old. Then came video cameras and babies were shot in the hospital, and even being born. Their first steps are videoed - their first bike ride - their first everything.

    I think folks have become used to the idea that absolutely everything in life, even the most intimate moments, can be photograhed. I'm not sure we are better for this.
    juan
     
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  15. Jim_in_Kyiv

    Jim_in_Kyiv Member

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    My understanding is that, yes, being on tribal land, i.e., the Black Hills, is different from being, say, in the Black Country. As for myself, a former resident of the East Coast of the US, I'm not anywhere near as familiar with Western-US American Indian attitudes towards photography as some of our other posters are. But here in Ukraine, many people don't like the idea of making photographs in churches at all - even during weddings (there are no shots of my own wedding ceremony, for instance). So yeah, cultural considerations can be even stronger than what is sometimes considered a basic level of human decency.

    Maybe he'll answer differently, but it's what I have to keep in mind over here.
     
  16. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    ???
     
  17. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    One of the additional duties of my photographic group in SEA was to take pictures of every accident or death involving miltary personnel wherever it took place or under any circumstances.

    I've seen more than I want to see of that type of thing. I couldn't and wouldn't even want to try to describe these. In fact, it has taken me this time since the thread started to even think of replying as it brings back too many memories.

    IDK why anyone would want to take such photos unless it was part of their job as a journalist or documenting it for the authorities.

    PE
     
  18. catem

    catem Member

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    If there was any possibility in my mind that I could influence the situation to avoid the death of others then I have no doubt at all about the choice I would make - I think many war journalists feel the same way.
     
  19. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    There is a fundamental element of wrongheadedness in this.

    YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT HE WAS OBSERVING.

    If we knew what others were seeing and feeling, there would be no need of photography.
     
  20. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Bjorke-

    Perhaps a re-read of the OP would help-

    From the sound of the OP, they were on the train, the man got pushed under the train, and then the conversation happened after the police arrived and began their job. That to me places the act of photographing the carnage as an after-the-fact voyeuristic gawk. We can only go on the OP's description of the chronology, which places the act of photographing well after the murder.
     
  21. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    The OP doesn't say "a photo of the carnage." You don't know what compelled the photographer. Perhaps it was the scene of the passengers. Perhaps it was a look on the face of a policeman. Maybe it was the crudest sort of tasteless gristle. Maybe it might have been a photo that would have had deep and meaningful emotional resonance for the photographer, and maybe for others. Maybe even the victim's family. YOU DON'T KNOW.

    Saying "you should not photograph" is a variation on "you should not speak" and "you should not think." These sentiments have practical social purpose at times, but should not be held as general principle. Ever.
     
  22. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser Advertiser

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    I worked for several years as a photojournalist early in my career and took some pretty disturbing photographs that to this day are hard for me to wrap my mind around. One inparticular was of a fire victim that ran quite large on the front page. I had argued against this in a staff meeting, but the editors went ahead with it using this rationale. The victim was smoking in bed and the editors said that one image may prevent others from making the same mistake. It still did not make me feel any better about the fact that family members were going to be exposed to this image as well. Adding to my anguish over the photo, it also won an award for the paper I was shooting. It bothers me to this day and was a major factor in my going in a different career direction with my photography.
     
  23. catem

    catem Member

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    That's a thought-provoking post, Bill.

    I think I should clarify what I meant by my own post though as I realise it could be read both ways.

    What I meant was, I believe I would have no hesitation in that situation about putting down my camera and doing something to help if I thought I could - and I've heard Don McCullin say this about his own role as a photographer in war zones, and also (if I remember rightly) James Natchwey. Not that I think I would behave in such a way - who knows how I would actually behave, I may well run away - but I'm sure if the choice were between doing something if it were possible and taking photographs, I would choose the first.
     
  24. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser Advertiser

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    I understand completely. I too have done this many times. Mostly with car wrecks. Because I used to monitor the scanner for spot news events, I was first on the scene more times than I care to admit. I've aided and comforted several to the best of my ability given the situation and even left my gear in the middle of a huge chain reaction to aid fireman in carrying stretchers over mangled vehicles. It was not a job for the faint hearted, that is for certain. I have the utmost respect for those that do it well. I realized though that it was not for me.
     
  25. seawolf66

    seawolf66 Member

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    I believe we all have that moral Issue withen each of us, that at any given moment we could be witness to a Happening It does not matter what type, then and Only then we will have to make that choice of weather we fotograph whats happening![ Shooting a person about to be hit by a train is one thing and then another to shoot the remains splatered all of the place unless it your Job: But then there are those who relish such things: Too Each His Own:
     
  26. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    that was what i was wondering, if tribal rules and regulation forbid people
    from making photographs. as distasteful as the images could have been,
    we, as bjorke stated earlier, don't really know what or why the passenger
    wanted to photograph.

    still wonderin'
    john