Photographing the Homeless. What's Your Ethics On this?
I was talking to an attorney today about this subject (so take that into consideration), and he stated that when he retired he would be interested in taking some B&W photos of our city's homeless population. I told him that I thought it was not a good idea and told him why.
My thinking is quite simple....everyone is someone's son or daughter. No one would want to see their children, or their mom or dad, portrayed at such a point in their lives. I always make a conscious effort not to photograph people in a demeaning or compromising manner. Catch them at their best is my motto, not their worst. I told the guy that there was certainly a lot of character in some of the faces, and he said yes, that was what he was talking about. Somehow though he never made the connection about making a good shot and portraying someone in an unfavorable light.
Now I'm not talking about a situation where you ask someone if you could take their photo, and explain that once it was taken who knows where it might appear. There's no ethical issue there. But taking candid shots of people when they're down and then exhibiting them or posting them online seems way out of bounds. How do other photographers see this? I think we have a moral and ethical responsibility to our photos and the people portrayed in them after they're made. Once an image is made, control over it often gets away from us. I think it's better to err on the side of good taste and ethical behavior. Or, how would I like to be presented if my life came to this?
Last edited by momus; 02-25-2014 at 04:05 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I hope I'm not alone in thinking that lumping together homeless people as "the homeless" is itself morally problematic ?
Homeless people are not a homogeneous group; using a phrase like "the homeless" invites the idea that they are not people like the rest of us, and are therefore somehow fair game for any photographic pursuit - a bit like animals in a game park perhaps - as well as degrading any sense of empathy with their situation.
Photography of homeless and other people in difficult situations has a long and often honourable history, but the photographer who wants to do so does need to understand and question his or her motivations for doing so.
I commend the work of Don Springer in Philly - stark and empathic at the same time - as a good model for this sort of stuff.
Some time ago I tried to take photos of the homeless a lot of them didn't like it.
You can either straight up ask their permission, or be candid and only shoot the conditions they live in. If you plan on getting the photos published you will need them to sign releases prior to shooting. If the latter, and you seek publishing, you will have to avoid showing their faces. I have seen shows of "homeless" , they were cooperative and had signed releases. I'm not sure, but they may have been compensated for cooperating.
BTW: the big kid in my avatar is my hero, my son, who proudly serves us in the Navy. "SALUTE"
Fraught with problems, not the least being the threat of an assault by one or more if they think you are 'spying' on them, or being robbed if you are seen with a nice expensive camera. Wear a good pair of running shoes!
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there is no trouble in mymind photographing homeless people if you show them and treat them with dignity and respect
there are toomany people who walk around with a camera and photograph someone passed out on the corner
or under / on a pile of "stuff" as if to show these folks as a freak-show.
a lot of people withno place to go are there because of dire circumstances, perhaps showing them as people first
and homeless second might help ..
when i was in grad school 20+ years ago i lived in the north end of boston and had to go under the highway overpass
to get to haymarket and eventually walk to school. the tunnel was FILLED with homeless guys, mostly "sharing a smile" ( getting drunk )
by about 8am. they'd ask for money endlessly, but i was a broke student who just had FOOD, so i would give them food.
eventually i became kind of friendly with a few of them, but never made portraits, but i am sure if i did, i could have shown
then as people, not as vagrants / hobos / "bums" because thats what they were ... people.
To me, it's like taking a picture of a burning building with occupants, and not helping instead.
At this point in time, I'd say unless you have something utterly new to communicate, don't. It seems like virtually everyone at some point or another in their photographic journey (or at least one person in every Photo 101 class) has done a photo essay on the homeless, and virtually all of them are exploitative or at the very least fail to communicate anything meaningful about the people or their situation. If you want to make a difference through your camera, then spend some time volunteering at a shelter or a soup kitchen, get to know the people, then photograph them as whole people. Otherwise, you're not contributing anything - you're just creating jerk-off "artporn" of the worst kind. It's certainly not illegal to take whatever photos of the homeless you want - they're on the street, in public, with no expectation of legal privacy. But as they don't have any place to go to exercise moral privacy, taking advantage of their lack of legal privacy is to me extremely low.
All seriousness aside. Daughter once modeled and did some commercials. Union minimum of $125 a day then if hourly pay did not reach $125 then union minimum kicked in. You did not call the model and not pay minimum (New York). I am sure if you were 'paying' not 'taking' then the situation would be much different.
If it is done well I am all for it. Nothing should be done out of sensation rather if a message is shown it has to be done. The dying, the starving, the homeless needs to be shown otherwise we forget it on our comfy couches.
If one does it as an agenda to drive it home.