An ethics question for all of you -

Should one apply an ethical standard to an image based on the manner in which it was taken?

Example - The work of Joel Peter Witkin. Some of you may or may not be familiar with his work.

Witkin is famous for pretty much creating a look that can be described as "Victorian Horror". It is a look that has been adopted by almost every creepy rock group out there (Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson have used this look a lot).

Most remarkable about Witkin's work is the subjects.

Many are dead.

And not "Grandpa quietly laid out in the living room dead" either. We are talking about severed heads, bodies that have had autopies performed on them, etc.

The ethical conundrum with Witkin though is not so much the fact that the subjects are dead, but as to how he has in the past gotten his subjects.

Witkin is famous (infamous really...) for his habit of driving down to Mexico and bribing morgue workers to let him "borrow" body parts for a while so he can shoot them. He now claims that he doesn't do this anymore, but he has done it in the past. He freely admits this.

Keeping this in mind, can one admire his work in light of his past actions?

Now from a technical standpoint his work is great. He does some neat stuff with the medium.

But he has in the past (and possibly in the present) done some shady things. Can one legitimately admire some fo his working knowing that the subject may very well be an unwilling participant? Especially in light of how the bodies were appropriated. Witkin intentionally took advantage of a corrupt system and used it to his advantage.

Personally, I find that one can not seperate the two. Witkin is in essence a grave robber. He engaged in some very unethical behavior in order to create his pieces. As such they should not be admired. It would be like admiring a murder in my mind. He also had no regard for the relatives of these people he used. Imagine the horror somebody would experience if they saw a picture of Tio Julio after he had an autopsy posed next to a vase of flowers in a grisly tableau! To me there can be no seperation between the image and the actions of the artist here. His actions were unethical, so his art can not be admired.

What are your thoughts?

PS - I would very much like to hear from Jorge on this, as it directly relates to where he lives.