What do I do? At the moment I'm not doing much, but I have volunteered at soup kitchens, and when panhandled with requests for something other than money (or booze) I oblige. It's not easy to sustain a charitable attitude when working with (some) homeless people because they have mental issues that make them hard to work with. I've been asked for food before and literally seen the person throw it in the trash because it wasn't to their liking. On the other hand, I've been asked for toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste) and walked right in to the CVS with the person and let him pick it out. But I'm not here to humblebrag about what I've done or not done. I was expressing my opinion on the original question of the ethics of photographing the homeless and why I held the opinion I do. I do think there is a good deed in not pointing the camera at someone homeless - the good deed is directed specifically at that individual by granting them some privacy they are otherwise lacking. Good deeds don't have to be obvious and they don't have to have a concrete outcome in order to be good.
Originally Posted by NB23
Often i offered food to homeless people. 9 times out of of 10 they turned it down. They didn't want it. "Give me money".
I was shocked and mad at the fact that they'd use the money for booze. But then I realized how stupid my reaction was.
The reality is that they can drink Booze all they want. I'm not their mama, i'm not the moral police. And if I see another photographer on the street "taking advantage" of them by taking a few pictures of a poor homeless, I absolutely won't care. No one will care. Not even the homeless. In fact, I'm more concerned about even less trivial things in life, like, for example, the color of the shoes my wife is wearing today.
I can already imagine me and John Doe:
-John Doe "Hey NB23, look! Someone is taking photos of a homeless across the street! What is this sheet!? I wanna go teach a lesson to the photographer. I'm gonna go break his neck"
-NB23 "Relaaax man, So what, look at those beautiful shoes my wife is wearing. Are they sexy or what?"
Then he loaded his camera with the lousiest film ever, the polypan-F and developed it with the rodinal stand technique using Rodinal 1:100 and he got streaks all over the negatives.
I shot my wife's shoes with velvia film and took a shot at the homeless and gave him a buck so he could fund his next Jack Daniel's bottle.
That's pretty much the way the story would go in real life.
Last edited by NB23; 02-27-2014 at 10:01 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I don't know where you get this idea that there are (would-be) photo police out there looking to beat up photographers taking street shots of homeless people. Nobody here in this thread certainly has advocated such. The question posed was "is it ethical", to which a majority of the voices in the thread have said "I don't think so". But even the most stridently opposed have not said they would even contemplate physical opposition. To reiterate, IN MY OPINION, it is somewhere between tacky and unethical to randomly photograph the homeless "just because they'd make a good picture". If someone asks me my opinion, I'll tell them my opinion. They are free to listen to my opinion and do with it what they will, adopt it or ignore it.
What you say is true. Instead of condemning the photographer, my attitude is that if I wouldn't have taken the picture for moral/ethical reasons, then I don't appreciate or admire it as someone else's work either. It goes into my ignore list. Nobody here was on a condemnation crusade. Just saying this thing doesn't work for them.
Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera
NB, no-one likes to suffer under generalisations if they are the exception. There are those homeless people who don't drink or do drugs, and don't want or deserve to be there. I should know, because my mother worked for 30 years as a social worker, and she has seen the best and the worst. If you haven't suffered like some have, don't be so quick to judge and generalise. As for giving food vs money, that is a universal issue, and nothing new. How to manage homelessness and poverty is a science of its own, and the reason why we have social workers etc. that are trained to deal with the many issues. There are many factors (substance abuse, low IQ, psychiatric problems, depression, plain poverty and unemployment etc.), and many cases are unique even though the lot seems hopelessly the same. On an individual level, every human being is entitled to at least a basic level of respect. We even afford that to criminals in jail, whether we like it or not. It is not what it means to them, but what it says about ourselves, that matters.
This is an interesting topic. A couple of years ago I was in one of my home towns, Cape Town. I was walking about taking some pictures and I felt tired of the typical sunset, beach, beautiful people motif. A guy with his face all cut up asked me for money and I dismissed him. I stopped 20 meters after the event and went back to him. I told him that I would give him money in exchange for his portrait. He was only too happy to oblige. While I was focusing and looking down the barrel of my RZ67, his friends appeared out of nowhere and started mugging me. I told them they could take all the money I had, but that I wanted their portraits in exchange. They obliged. They all lined up, ripped off their shirts and posed for me.
From that point on I began to see people on benches, under bushes or sleeping on the ground. All I saw were those people on the periphery of living, on the edge of life. I would strike up a conversation and offer to buy them lunch in exchange for a portrait. Some of them were happy to be seen, some of them just wanted to tell me their name. I have a series from this day out and I often go back out and see some of them. I now know their names and can strike up a chat.
I think they appreciated the time I spent listening to their stories. Some of them had marvelous stories to tell. I often wonder if I was taking advantage of them but then I think that intention counts. I was not stealing their portraits. I was not making any money from them, in fact I went to the ATM and probably made their day. I got their names and stories and they loved it. It made them feel seen but not in an embarrassing way. So many of them had so much pride left in them, real dignity even in the face of real adversity.
I then started developing an idea to create a body of work that might just be of some use and if it could generate any kind of value would be donated to the local shelter. I wanted to know where these people got food, shelter or a cup of tea. Some of them had pets and I found out of a vet who treated those people without homes' animals for free. I discovered that there are stories all around and that what we thought was the main focus can lead to something else.
It was a hugely humbling and valuable experience for me, one that left me feeling a lot of gratitude. I would like to share some of the pictures from this day.
This is the guy who mugged me. He has a blade concealed in his hand and the words "Your monther's **** " tattooed on his arm.
This is Zain. She was ravaged by alcohol and haunts me to this day.
This is Zain and Abubakkar. Abu was awesome. Before I took the picture he asked me to stop. He went riffling through his plastic bags and pulled out his hat. He brushed himself down, put his hat on and asked how he looked - 'beautiful' I told him.
This is Mohammad. He really made me work for this portrait. I spoke to him for about an hour. He is very learned and we discussed everything from Jesus to Mohammad. He comes from a long line of Cape Malays and was very proud to tell me of his heritage.
This band of merry pranksters also just about mugged me. I just emptied my pockets in exchange for their picture. They were having a great time drinking and laughing. In the center is Elizabeth. She came from a town far away and was blind in one eye. Her t-shirt reads " I only golf on days that end in 'Y' " Even though they were on the street and as free as can be, I thought the gate behind them was an excellent metaphor of the cage in which they are trapped.
These two Rastas who live on the mountain side were full of good vibes and actually stopped me for a picture when they saw me talking to Mohammad.
This guy came up behind me and offered me an Easter Egg. He lived in a local shelter.
I have so many more pictures from that day, which I consider myself blessed to have been part of. I don't feel I took advantage of anyone. I learned a lot that day.
Last edited by Ghostman; 02-28-2014 at 05:17 AM. Click to view previous post history.
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Before he attained Nirvana and became Buddha, he was Prince Siddhartha.
A Prince whose father's court astrologers foretold, would either become a great King or a great Saint/sage.
Now no King would want a son to go become a saint, so he was ensconced within the walls of richness and care was ensured to see he would not see the sick, poor or the dying.
But, one day, he somehow got to go out without all the camouflage and got to see the poor, the old and the sick/dying. Following that he shock he left behind a lland kingdom to go meditate. And years later become the Buddha.
On a photographic forum, being told not to photograph the poor/sick/homeless, kind of reminded me of that.
Photographers have enough restrictions on what to photograph without fellow photographers adding to that list.
The consent logic or the 'you *have* to do something about it'
argument can be extended infinitely to cover everything around.
"the tree was soaking in the sun, listening to the birds chirping, its hairy, well leafy branches taking the fresh air as well and cooking and you disturbed it, in its own home! You didn't take it's consent, now *stop using paper*".
(or, "dont take baby pictures, so what if you're the parent, the baby cant yet consent to it!")
Let's not take ourselves so seriously.
To the OPs question
I personally really like taking candids but shy away if I think it's a private moment - 'really lost deep in thought', or crying silently etc., even if it probably makes for a good photograph.
I don't think it is 'necessary' to help. Even a conversation, treating them as people is okay. or just photographing is okay too.
Dont subscribe to the you *must* do this argument...
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I think you completely missed Buddha's point - not photographing someone is NOT not seeing them. Buddha would have wanted you to see them, experience compassion, and do something. The "do something" would be to feed them, clothe them, shelter them, treat them with dignity and respect. Photographing them at the moment of their least dignity is not feeding, clothing, sheltering or respecting them - it is in fact inviting others to ridicule and shame them, perpetuating their situation instead of alleviating it. But again, as has been said multiple times in this thread, that all depends on how you photograph them. And no, you can't extend the consent argument the way you suggest, either. A tree is non-sentient (that we know so far) so it does not have consent to give or withhold. A child, while not capable of giving informed consent from a legal standpoint, is capable of expressing a desire to be photographed or not, and that should be respected by people not in their family. And legally speaking in almost every country (if not actually every country) parents are considered able to consent or withhold consent for their children until the children reach the age of majority.
Originally Posted by analoguey
how do you feel about paparazzi photos then, of celebrities sunbathing in the nude, on their own lawn or inside their own homes? Is that fair and appropriate to take their picture in a situation where they had every expectation of privacy? What about if you and your spouse/significant other are having sex, inside your home, but didn't realize the curtains were open, and the horny teenager from across the street takes pictures of it, then passes them around to all their friends in your neighborhood? That, to me, is the moral equivalent of photographing a homeless person on the street who happens to be minding their own business, just because they happen to be 'picturesque' in the moment you observe them.
There isn't a need to personalise this. I have already my position on privacy clear, or didn't you notice?
1. No, it wasn't Buddha who didn't want to see, someone else restricted him from seeing what was real, and out in public space.
No one here's asking 'How about we take photos of the poor or homeless and make fun of them' so going ballistic about it and saying ' it's plain wrong to photograph the poor or homeless' is just not on. A lot of documentary evidence of how the poor live just wouldnt exist if people were forbade from photographing them.
Funny that you argue trees aren't sentient beings - and then use the legal consent requirement wrt children. This is hardly a 'legality' issue when discussing ethics.
If legality is required, then the whole ' dont shoot the homeless' argument is bunk as public spaces mean photography is legal, privacy isn't assured.
I reiterate, a photography community saying 'dont shoot' in a public space, reg something legal is well ironic, at best.
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If you think I'm going ballistic you're completely misreading me.
WRT children, of course parents should be able to take all the pictures of their children they want to. I, on the other hand, not being the parent of said child, should get permission from the parent. It's one reason why I don't photograph other peoples' kids in public - even though it is my right to do so if the child is doing something cute or photogenic, the potential hassle isn't worth it.
I still think you're completely missing the point about privacy and public spaces. Yes, there is no legal bar to photographing anyone doing anything on a public street (in the United States, that is... elsewhere your mileage may vary. Don't try and pull that stunt in Germany, for example). However, I am making an ethical distinction about photographing someone in public who effectively has no privacy. The comment about your personal privacy being invaded for photographic purposes was to try and drive home the notion that that is what is happening when you photograph the homeless. Why is there a problem with feeling empathy for someone in a desperate situation and showing them some compassion by NOT photographing them in a moment of weakness?
I'm making a distinction between a journalistic exercise and hobbyist photography. Journalism is about telling a story and communicating an idea or some larger truth. Hobbyist photography is taking pictures for the pleasure of the activity. If your purpose is journalistic, by all means take pictures of whatever needs to be photographed. But the original question was not "is it ethical to photograph the homeless for a journalistic purpose" but rather "is it ethical to photograph them just because".
I did see your comment about your personal ethics of when to shoot and not to shoot. I don't see how the position I'm advocating is incompatible - I'm just arguing for a broader definition of compassion.
Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera
“The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”