Are There Ethical Issues with Making and Displaying Photos of Those About to Die?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by landrum_kelly, Nov 11, 2010.

  1. My thinking on this was triggered by the beginning of an article that I just tried to read:
    http://chronicle.com/article/Dont-Look-Away/125241/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en
    (I cannot read the entire thing because my subscription ran out. Nor have I read the book cited.)
    We have heard discussions about the ethics of shooting the homeless, of shooting corpses, etc. In what ways (if any) are photos of those who are about to die different? Are they even more poignant or compelling? Is so, why? (For that matter, are they more revolting?)
    Are there other verboten subjects that deserve to be considered or reconsidered in terms of the ethics of photography?
    (May I interject at this point that I think that we need the subfields of philosophy--at the very least "ethics"--as our possible categories. "History" is either too limiting, or too broad, depending on one's point of view.)
    --Lannie
     
  2. Yes. These are commercial adverisment, pornography and sunset landscapes.
     
  3. I have access to the article and just read it. (Sorry, I don't have the right to reproduce it.) It is actually a review of two books of interest to photographers, The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence, by Susie Linfield, and The Boy: A Holocaust Story, by Dan Porat. Both books deal with the photographing of prisoners of the Nazis during the Holocaust, prisoners who, with few exceptions, were murdered shortly after the photographs were made, and with the ethics of making those photographs available for viewing.
    To me, such photographs are an important part of the public record. Hiding such photographs, in an effort provide victims with a small measure posthumous privacy and dignity, is misguided, as I see it. It helps hide crimes which some people still deny ever occurred. I believe that photographs of the victims of the Holocaust, Jews, Romani, and Slavs, who died in the Nazi camps, should be widely available. That includes the photographs of my great-grandparents (my paternal grandmother's parents) both nearly a hundred years old when they were taken away. My family does not have photographs of them. I wish we did. I would display them at home with other family pictures, and I am sure we would have no objection to making them public.
     
  4. As with so many ethical questions about a given act, it comes down to: why? Is the photograph a gloating or deliberately ghoulish portrayal? Or is it a Leibovitz-Sontag-esque expression of love and looming loss? Is it stark history, as Hector points out, or is it hamfisted editorializing? I don't think we can talk about it in broad terms, without some context.
     
  5. Generally, these photos have a tendency to humanize what was going to take place and in that vein, they also tend to make us more sympathetic to the person and more aware of the cruelty of the crime or act. How often do we see any photos of someone going to the gas chamber or the electric chair in actual cases--cameras are prohibited, we only see the mug shots of the person that was executed. In such cases, there might be ethical issues to showing them right before the act and it wouldn't probably end up serving the retention of capital punishment either.
    But, going back to criminal activity or war crime, reading about stuff isn't as powerful as looking into eyes of the people being talked about and so I do believe it can serve its purpose--and be manipulated as well for that matter.
     
  6. Well, if you think about it geological time, we're all "about to die". Rocks are old.
     
  7. No Golden Rule here.
    Pictures of holocaust: yes. Greater value to history and remembrance than to individual privacy. I've never heard a family member of a holocaust victim express concern over pictures they've seen.
    Paparazzi pics of famous person in coffin sneaked with telefoto lens: probably no.
    Leibovitz photos of dying Sontag: two sides. Leibovitz vs. Sontag's son.
    No guidelines. Personal ethics. No concrete answer to the Leibovitz matter . . . two legitimate competing claims. No outside help. Must make up my own mind or even, perhaps, remain ambivalent or . . . conflicted! I went with Leibovitz on this one but don't have any theorems or postulates that got me there.
     
  8. I suppose there are also, in addition to what has alerady been mentioned in connection with the intent of the photo, considerations to be made about of whom the photo is taken. There is, to some minds at least, a difference between someone about to be executed, someone in battle, someone dying in bed of illness (and here, I suppose one could distinghuish further between someone who, given the right conditions might've survived and someone who, with all the insurance and medical attention in the world is still going to die), and so on and so forth.
    I too, think these photos a matter of historical record, and they should not be avoided or kept secret. Definitely not.
    Are there other subjects, that need reconsidering from an ethics point of view? I suppose there are not so few. Paparazzi (sp?) shots, photos of religious ceremonies/places of worship, crime, photos that might hinder environmental awareness etc.
     
  9. jtk

    jtk

    I don't think ethics exist entirely outside oneself. They are something we share with our culture, and presumably with cultures with whom we relate.
    For example, the Navajo people around me have ethical considerations that I feel "should" be honored even though they're not my own. For example, they seem to treat indebtedness and thankfulness as less important than behavior. If I think a Navajo person owes me, I'm probably mistaken. But s/he will probably return the favor, given enough time. Therefore I "should" probably be careful about my expectations. This is both a practical and ethical matter.
    Navajo people are typically less casual about death than are Anglo and Hispanic people around here. They don't want to talk about it. That's a "taboo" but probably not an ethical matter for them. On the other hand, knowing the little I know about their death issues, I think it'd be highly unethical for me to involve myself in their dying process...by photographing them.
    I'm sure there are parallel issues with other cultures, and most of us do live in multi-cultural communities, Walmart homogization notwithstanding.
     
  10. Yes, there are ethical issues, and cultural ones, too.
    I believe in letting the light in. Even when the intent of the photographer is clearly malevolent.
    I think of the famous photograph of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirator, Payne, awaiting his hanging:
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://rlv.zcache.com/lewis_payne_lincoln_conspirator_1865_poster-p228057835178629146qzz0_400.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.zazzle.com/lewis_payne_lincoln_conspirator_1865_poster-228057835178629146&h=400&w=400&sz=33&tbnid=K6PuNwF3sZR0dM:&tbnh=124&tbnw=124&prev=/images%3Fq%3DLincoln%2Bconspirator%2B%252Bphotographs&zoom=1&q=Lincoln+conspirator+%2Bphotographs&hl=en&usg=__giFu3_agUb9q8oHdlzXcrZ_p0Qk=&sa=X&ei=SxTcTOPdO8Gs8AaE75SMCQ&sqi=2&ved=0CCcQ9QEwAg
    And Roman Vishniac's pictures of ghettoized Jews, whom he knew were doomed:
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://images.artnet.com/artwork_images_423904078_112726_roman-vishniac.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.artnet.com/artwork/423932683/423904078/carpatho-ruthenia.html&usg=__HP25-DvOWMP4teIYhq76BsDVOM4=&h=480&w=501&sz=29&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=vaa9pmylxeyoSM:&tbnh=70&tbnw=73&prev=/images%3Fq%3DRoman%2BVishniac%2Bphotographs%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D792%26bih%3D396%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C114&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=88&vpy=35&dur=6585&hovh=220&hovw=229&tx=128&ty=134&ei=NRXcTK_hO4L88AbbhY2oCQ&oei=NRXcTK_hO4L88AbbhY2oCQ&esq=1&page=1&ndsp=15&ved=1t:429,r:0,s:0&biw=792&bih=396
    How he kept it together, I don't know...
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://images.artnet.com/artwork_images_423904078_112726_roman-vishniac.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.artnet.com/artwork/423932683/423904078/carpatho-ruthenia.html&usg=__HP25-DvOWMP4teIYhq76BsDVOM4=&h=480&w=501&sz=29&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=vaa9pmylxeyoSM:&tbnh=70&tbnw=73&prev=/images%3Fq%3DRoman%2BVishniac%2Bphotographs%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D792%26bih%3D396%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C114&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=88&vpy=35&dur=6585&hovh=220&hovw=229&tx=128&ty=134&ei=NRXcTK_hO4L88AbbhY2oCQ&oei=NRXcTK_hO4L88AbbhY2oCQ&esq=1&page=1&ndsp=15&ved=1t:429,r:0,s:0&biw=792&bih=396
    and...
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://images.artnet.com/WebServices/picture.aspx%3Fdate%3D20081021%26catalog%3D147487%26gallery%3D111588%26lot%3D00098%26filetype%3D2&imgrefurl=http://www.artnet.com/artists/lotdetailpage.aspx%3Flot_id%3DDF34AA7560B04C9B5B94ED5D239DFD56&usg=__yXGRpQKOggm6SAEbQDv2qaYVx-M=&h=480&w=476&sz=143&hl=en&start=23&zoom=1&tbnid=laqMkftc3HI_FM:&tbnh=121&tbnw=141&prev=/images%3Fq%3DRoman%2BVishniac%2Bphotographs%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26biw%3D792%26bih%3D396%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C6840%2C684&um=1&itbs=1&ei=JxbcTJexJpDevQOW6eyhCg&iact=hc&vpx=583&vpy=141&dur=179&hovh=168&hovw=166&tx=74&ty=88&oei=qRXcTJHqI4O78gbIrKmnCQ&esq=3&page=3&ndsp=8&ved=1t:429,r:7,s:23&biw=792&bih=396
    Yes, I know he embellished.
     
  11. In what ways (if any) are photos of those who are about to die different? Are they even more poignant or compelling? Is so, why? (For that matter, are they more revolting?)​
    mainly they are different because it confronts us with our own unease about dealing with that. That in my experience is what is most predominant here. Death is not called the last taboo for nothing.
    The answer to your question is a matter of context. On the whole however I can see no subjects that are or should be verboten.
    I've dealt for many years professionally with dying people and although this may seems strange, in some ways I've had the best time ever there. Perhaps it's because everyone reverts to genuine emotions, all pretense is gone and while it was often sad there was laughter as well. I never did myself but I can see no reason why one couldn't photograph there if people would permit. Revolting? Not in any way
    Photographically I did a assignment in a morgue once. Key there was preserving dignity and I did. It was a far cry from what Andres Serrano did but Serrano's morgue photos are of course very confronting. Is that a bad thing? I'm not too sure. Personally I think he created a great and interesting series. Revolting? I think it very much depends on one's perspective.
    A different kind of context then.
    Let's be honest, we're all a bunch of hypocrits. We see people dying in Africa while shoving a triple hamburger into our mouth, we've become desensitised to what the TV presents us with. We merely look mildy interested at people being blown to bits in a far away country if we're not in some way personally involved.
    What ethics are there involved in a PJ covering the war in Iracq or Afghanistan? Again a matter of context. Read up on for instance McCullin or Nachtwey. There's no denying it's had a profound impact on their personal life at a huge cost. Who would want that? I wouldn't but at the same time I'm glad that some do. These photos, as do the Holocaust photos, serve, if nothing else a historical purpose.
    As for the Leibovitz debate I think it's both impossible and pretentious to declare an absolute opinion there because it's so deeply personal. I can fully understand your hesitation Fred.
    When my father was dying it never even occurred to me to photograph that process. Not that he would have minded or that I couldn''t have done it emotianally. It's just that especially those last week where so intense, joyfully and valuable that it never occurred to me. But neither he nor I would have felt uncomfortable about it if I had.
    reading about stuff isn't as powerful as looking into eyes of the people being talked about​
    key sentence I think
     
  12. Luis, the Payne photo is quite remarkable (taken in a pit where Payne awaited his sort) because he is is dead (history or fact) and he is going to die (photograph), also because we are seeing a very healthy young man who might have chosen a different life (incidentally, he was attempting to assassinate an elected high government official, but not Lincoln). The photograph renews the drama, and allows an insight into the apparent strength or resolve of the person that otherwise would probably not exist.
    The young jewish woman, naked in a pit in Russia (Babi Yar) with other victims, had no choice. She modestly covers her naked breasts before an army photographer, yet is soon to be machine gunned down with the others. But she shows her humanity and her training to the end.
    Both of these persons are about to die. Do their photos serve a useful end? Hopefully so. Taking pictures of dying family members or friends is difficult. We have a relation with them that should be stronger I think than the will to document. The photos of their healthy days are of greater importance, are they not?
     
  13. Arthur, taking a photo can be more than documenting. Why wouldn't taking the photo be part of the relationship? When I photograph someone, that is relationship, and it's strong.
    In answer to your last question, to some, each day of a life is of equal importance and to some the last days may be of greater importance. I may well value my time with my mother in her last weeks more than other periods in our lives. I didn't photograph her then and I don't think she would have wanted to be photographed. But if the person or situation were different (and I wasn't photographing seriously then), I can imagine wanting or needing to photograph such a time.
     
  14. Death to me is not the opposite of life, it's the opposite of birth. Life is eternal, especially in photographs.
    While "opposite's" I don't see why there would be an ethical issue in making and displaying photos of those about to die as I don't see one in the making and displaying of photos of those about to be born either.
    The ethical issue then seems to be not in the dying but in the manner of dying ( through violence ), which however hasn't anything to do with photography or with photos, but with the things the photos describe or the camera is pointed at.
     
  15. Life and death. we tend to make a person's dying
    a special thing for a short while and then forget about it.
    Widows and widowers are often neglected after a few weeks or months when more attwention should be given.
    I recall a movie about the Holocost where they portriaied a young man who had been starved and neglected nearly to the point of death. American soldiers / recurers were told by doctors that nothing could be done, the only thing to do was to treat the young man kindly as he had reached the point of no return. A soulder stayed with this person until the end.
    Whenb the actor who played Hamilton Burger in Perry Mason and when Yul Brunner was dying of lung cancer.
    they had TV commercials for the American cancer society.
    Even thugh these men were dying and looked really bad.
    those commercials should have been run over and over to warn others,.
    Instead they were only seen a few times.
    TOO TOUGH to watch? sure that is why we all should be reminded.
    Lung Cancer from smoking is similar to pregnancy
    Toy cannot just be a little pregnant or have a LITTLE lung cancer.
    One has a happy ending the other always has a sad ending.
    Aged relatives? Take photos while they still are health so grand-kids can remember them
    I read that in europe phoptos of the deceased are often on the gravestones
    this would be unthinkable here in the USA.
     
  16. jtk

    jtk

    In San Francisco, in the 80s, a company created tombstones with audio tape machines and photos. It's far from "unthinkable," at least in the civilized parts of the US. I don't know how well the idea sold. but some were installed in Colma, the town of the dead just south of The City. The idea was that you could go to your relative's grave and, I guess, push a button to hear something in that person's voice. I wonder if they replaced the tape drives with SD cards?
    In New Mexico, right now, tombstones and descansos (roadside monuments to people who died on the spot) often have photos.
    Richard Avedon did a moving series of portraits of his dying father, standing. He exhibited them printed life-size.
    I photographed my mother in late stages, standing and walking, emaciated and barely lucid. She'd been a photographer since she was 19 (processed Agfa/Ansco slides of the World's Fair on Treasure Island). I think being photographed may have been seen by her as a responsibility at 84.
     
  17. jtk

    jtk

  18. I think the ethics of it depend on your intention. If you're doing it to document, I don't see a problem. If you're doing it to have photos of dead people, that's pretty messed up and disrespectful.
    It also depends on presentation too. Weegee (sp?) made a career out of it. Mappelthorphe also made a career out of 'unethical' images. But if either of those guys had a random shot of a dead guy or a random penis in an otherwise unrelated catalog, I'd call it pure shock, with no artistic merits. As it is the merits are still open to discussion, but it's not a hard line like it would be if they just tossed them in there.
     
  19. One of the coolest things I've ever heard out of someone's mouth was the Dalai Lama's. He was asked when he reached 60 years old what was he going to do. He answered (to paraphrase) - "Prepare to die". He wasn't intending to commit suicide, but prepare for his death sometime in the future. He was going to get his "house" in order.
    One of the many paradoxes of life is those who keep in mind their eventual death are able to live their lives more fully. They don't waste their days on nonsense and things that are really unimportant. I can't tell you how many times I've seen folks spend their entire lives on climbing the corporate ladder only to look back years later with tears in their eyes wishing they spent more time with their children - I think they though there would always be more time.
    One of the purposes of art I believe is to bring issues that many find uncomfortable to light, maybe even shove it in their face and remind people that they don't have much time here. Art is also about showing that we are human with the weaknesses and strengths that comes with humanity. I think if we were to be more cognisant of that, there would be much less problems in this World.
     
  20. It certainly depends on what knowledge the photographer has when he is taking the photograph. For the holocaust photographs, most likely the photographer did not know what fate awaited his subjects. Very likely the shots were photojournalism, and possibly taken with a highly ethical goal, recording an atrocious event to make the world aware of what was taking place. What could be more ethical when the only weapon one has in the face of injustice is a camera than recording the event in the hopes that the situation will be remedied? That the situation was or would become much worse - that the individuals being unjustly or cruelly placed under arrest were to be subjected to the ultimate cruelty - is unknown to the photographer. The Rwandan genocide comes to mind as well in this regard, and there are many others as well (Stalin's actions in the 30's, Laos in the 70's, alas, there's so much).
    As others have said or implied, all living subjects of our photographs are ultimately doomed. Knowing the fate of the subjects, if it is known, can profoundly affect the viewer and how he views the photograph, at least it does me. Recently the Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article in that regard. See the following link, assess the aesthetics of the Walker Evans photograph, and then read the accompanying article. See if how you look at the photograph a second time does not change profoundly.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303467004575574162690573540.html
    If the photographer tries to capitalize on the fate of his subjects - assuming he did not know in advance - that is unethical. I consider photographs of people with terminal disease (taken with permission) or on death row, etc, photojournalism and/or documentary and in general I see no ethical problems there. If I take a 'street photograph' of a person standing on the curb at an intersection because for some reason I find it worth taking, and then while moving on to search for the next grab I hear a screech of tires and see that the person I just photographed was struck by a car and killed, then for me to market that photograph as "Moment before death" or some other similarly abhorrent title, that would be extremely unethical.
     
  21. Yes, I do believe that that there is a lot of issues here. But, ethical questions are what drives the humanity forward.
    Plus, it's documentary. Don't the photos of concentration camps belong to the most moving in history?
    I think pictures like this are something that make even the most cynical people slow down and think.
     
  22. Thanks for the great contributions, guys, and please keep them coming. I have far too many deadlines to meet to be able to jump in on this one, but I am learning a lot from the rest of you.
    --Lannie
     
  23. The ethics of photographing someone near death, dying, or being killed, would seem to depend almost entirely on the circumstances--most of all, on the photographer's role in the situation, the nature of his relation to the subject, and his intentions.
    We can approach a human being in extremis in a respectful, supportive, honest manner, or in an disrespectful, exploitative, abusive manner--whether the nature of our interaction with that person is photographic, emotional, financial, or physical.
    An extreme, hypothetical example: in Poland in 1940, as civilians are being herded in groups to the edge of a mass grave to await their deaths before an Einsatzgruppe firing squad, two photographers are recording the event: (1) an SS photographer standing near the grave, making photographs for internal SS reports, or for the private delectation of Nazi leaders; and (2) a member of the Polish resistance lying in a concealed position in a nearby treeline, making photos to be smuggled out of Poland to Allied governments as proof of the Nazi genocide, with renewed pleas for help, targeted bombing, etc. The first "act of photography" is obscenely immoral--just another element of the extermination campaign; the second, by contrast, is highly moral and ethical, although the actual images being produced may be almost identical.
    In the context of their creation, all photographs of victims made or commissioned by the Nazis for Nazi purposes are obscene. But after the fact--after the Nazi downfall--the surviving photos exist in another context as well, and assume a higher level of meaning: they have become evidence, they are historical proof of crimes, and they bear witness to lives that were crushed. In photographs left by the Nazis, by the Khmer Rouge, and by others like them, we can see, remember, mourn, and honor individual victims--and by extension, all of the victims. Notwithstanding the obscenity of their creation, the surviving images have carried forward in time the faces of people who did not survive. The photographs have become their only link to future generations.
    Thus, as regards the act of making photos, it is the nature of a photographer's intentions that would seem to define his actions as "ethical" or not. And in most cases, it doesn't seem too difficult to sort out, once the circumstances of a given photograph are known.
    Maybe more complicated is the ethics of deciding to look at photographs of people about to die, or dying, or being killed. At one revolting extreme are sick, sick people who seek and find pleasure in images of torture and murder (consumers of real or simulated "snuff films" are no different from Hitler and Himmler as they enjoyed the films of their Einsatzgruppen at work).
    A long time ago, in an anthology, I read an Anais Nin short story ("The woman in the dunes"--I just googled it) in which a woman recounts having anonymous, furtive sex with a man standing behind her, pressed against her, in the crush of an excited crowd--as she, he, and all those around them were watching a public execution. Her sexual pleasure was directly connected to the death of the condemned man on the scaffold. I remember thinking: whatever its literary merits, this is the most disgusting story I've ever read. I felt tainted. I've never forgotten that story, and my opinion about it hasn't changed.
    In the same way, photographs that depict suffering or death--anyone's death--in an exploitative, mocking, dismissive or gratuitous way communicate a view of the human condition that is degrading and coarsening. To make or consume photographs of that type is not, to me, ethical.
    But in a more neutral and general sense, every one of us has experienced fear of death, curiosity about death, apprehension, and acceptance to a greater or lesser degree. From childhood onward, we all must deal with feelings and thoughts about the end of life--our own and others'. We live in a visual world, we're mortal, and the fact of death and dying is inescapable.
    As long as the motives for making or viewing images of the dying are honest, non-exploitative and respectful of our shared mortality, it seems to me there is no ethical issue.
     
  24. jtk

    jtk

    IMO "motives" are always dubious, typically distorted in retrospect, often self-defensive.
    I think the act itself is the realm of ethics, not the motives. The motives play a role in the act, but the act measures the motives.
    Did you do good or evil? That's the ethical question...not "how do you feel about your actions, Mr. Eichmann?"
     
  25. "IMO 'motives' are always dubious, typically distorted in retrospect, often self-defensive.
    "I think the act itself is the realm of ethics, not the motives."
    John, "the act itself" is the realm of law.
    To run down a pedestrian while driving a car may be a "non-culpable accident", or it may be "involuntary manslaughter", or it may be "first-degree murder". There's no difference in "the act itself"--certainly not to the victim, who is dead either way.
    The difference lies in the motive of the driver involved-- i.e., his intentionality.
    The same principle applies with ethics. No one who makes a complex decision, or initiates a complex action, can foresee its ultimate consequences. Things may turn out badly, no matter how well-intended. It happens all the time.
    I think your Eichmann analogy is fatuous. He was hanged for his violations of law, not his ethics.
     
  26. Correction--my third sentence above should read:
    "There's no difference in the good or evil consequences of "the act itself"--certainly not to the victim, who is dead either way."
     
  27. Yes, there are. But the rules only come from your own sense of decency and respect for the deceased and also their loved ones.
    I'd give it a miss, quite frankly...we see enough horror and mayhem on TV and the web thanks. It may be news or important in context, but quite frankly find some other meaty subject.
     
  28. Thanks, Ernest. That was a very eloquent exposition of your position. Surely there is a massive difference between the SS taking photos for Nazi consumption, on the one hand, and the Polish resistance taking very, very similar photos for the sake of trying to end the carnage, on the other.
    John, notwithstanding the problems with emotivism, if what one means by "motives" is not "feelings" or "emotions," but moral intent, then surely the analysis by Ernest is very helpful. I do agree that feelings alone are not always a reliable guide. I am not quite sure that I can agree with Hume that "Reason is or ought to be the slave of the passions," but I am not sure that Hume has totally missed the mark, either.
    In any case, "motives" and "intent" are often used as if they were synonymous. They are not, but the analysis by Ernest is so penetrating and so eloquently voiced that I am very hesitant to say that he has totally missed the mark in his usage, either. The real issue on that question of usage (motive v. rational intent) takes us further afield into ethical theory than I am prepared to go with a busy day ahead of me.
    If human motives and feelings are often unreliable, what, after all, may we say of human reason in terms of reliability?
    --Lannie
     
  29. The motives play a role in the act, but the act measures the motives.​
    What, then, is the measure of the act, John?
    Sorry, but I have to go and cannot participate further now. This is fascinating, but the day promises to be very long and hard.
    --Lannie
     
  30. "Sometimes the question is best asked of the dying person." John, I think this goes to the heart of the matter. We can spend countless hours analyzing the possible merits of taking photographs of dying persons, trying to find some justification for intruding into what seems to be a person's most private moments. Indeed, Holocaust photographs helped to expose the horrors of a genocide, the likes of which the world never had experienced before (and hopefull never will again). Yet, we cannot say how the young woman in the pit at Babi Yar wanted to spend her last moments. I, for one, will not try to second-guess her.
     
  31. Teddy here didn't seem to mind, though he was a little put out when I started discussing the philosophy of photography with him.
    00XfQu-301253584.jpg
     
  32. I realize my post may be offensive to some. If it is, my apologies and the mods can feel free to delete it.
     
  33. This question, and the photograph he took, haunted photographer Kevin Carter to such an extend that he took his own life.
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5241442
     
  34. jtk

    jtk

    Lannie, I think you're forgetting about "law." Laws protect vulnurable people, such as those in nursing homes, from various kinds of affronts and intrusions. "Ethics" is a soft way of saying "morals." Morals are typically specified by powerful people in societies, such as wise old women, priests etc. Morals are typically defined by laws, ethics are less compulsory.
    I think Ernest (above) has missed something crucial: a photographer can elevate or degrade others with her/his work. Photography has zero significance unless it's shared. If one takes no responsibility for the way one's work influences others, one cannot claim to have any interest in ethics.
     
  35. "I think Ernest (above) has missed something crucial: a photographer can elevate or degrade others with her/his work...If one takes no responsibility for the way one's work influences others, one cannot claim to have any interest in ethics."
    Where did that come from?
    "Honest, non-exploitative and respectful of our shared mortality" were the words I used.
     
  36. Someone well meaning may be taking exploitive pictures of homeless or dead people. The pictures may be exploitive, regardless of the person's intentions. There are many exploitive photos of homeless people on PN. I doubt many people take them out of malevolence.
    Nevertheless, it would be good if they stopped taking these pictures and didn't rely on their good intentions as the only indicator but rather the results of their actions, since the photographs often speak louder in the world than their intentions.
     
  37. So in your opinion, Fred, this photo, being "unethical", should not have been made ?
    http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/migrantmother.htm
    Or are you saying that only you (or only you and John Kelly, and perhaps a few others) should attempt to make such photographs--since only you have the rare powers of discrimination that are required to avoid exploitative consequences?
    Are you advocating a licensing program for photographers, with learners' permits, trial portfolios, etc., culminating in a final "unrestricted" ethics stamp? (Since as you say, mere good intentions are an unreliable indicator.)
     
  38. Ernest, I think common sense can be used.
    I've commented on a few photos that I have found exploitive, not with an idea toward intimidation or censorship, but in hopes of opening up a dialogue. On a couple of occasions, other photographers have then chimed in and agreed with me. A few times, the photographer was moved by the discussion and discovered something not previously considered. That's how genuine and honest communication (sometimes called critique, which can be about more than "nice crop, nice tones") can work, at least at its best. I've been on the receiving ends of such critiques and forced me to confront some of my own demons as well, a welcome part of my own photographic process.
     
  39. The "homeless" are mostly used as a generic label, as much by the ones against photographing them as by the ones labeling them as such through photographs. Like if the homeless don't have a will of their own or like some haven't choosen for their lifestyle, and need to be protected at all ( of which photography should be the least of concerns ).
    00Xfc6-301423584.jpg
     
  40. jtk

    jtk

    Ernest, you've gone off the deep end by pretending Fred or I have tried to tell you what to do.
     
  41. jtk

    jtk

    Phylo, I don't think anybody's ever opposed photographing homeless people, certainly not Fred or I. In his post above, Fred used the term "exploitative." I've commented on my preference (fwiw...something to do with my "ethics") for engaging with people I'm photographing. Your post, above, seems to propose that since some homeless don't object to being photographed, it's OK. I don't disagree...but of course if you believe the person hasn't objected, doesn't that mean you've engaged with them (eg spoken or made it clear that you were photographing)?
    Personally, I don't like photographing anybody unaware, homeless or not. But I've done it occasionally. I think of that as an ethical issue...
     
  42. Phylo, some people who have chosen a lifestyle can still be exploited by others. And I don't necessarily think people "need" to be "protected." I seek to avoid exploitation.
     
  43. "Ernest, I think common sense can be used."
    Fred, that is exactly my point.
    In the absence of legal prohibitions, a licensing program, or an explicit code of conduct ("You may do this/You may not do that"), the ethical propriety of making a photograph--or not--depends on (1) the photographer's understanding of the subject and the situation, and (2) the nature of his intentions.
    Like any other person, a photographer may have good intentions coupled with a poor or incomplete understanding of a situation or subject (in cross-cultural encounters this happens all the time); and as a result he may commit a serious faux pas. However, an honestly-made mistake based on incomplete understanding is not "unethical"; it's just an honestly made mistake.
    Those on the receiving end of your ethical tutelage, as you describe, Fred, no doubt have emerged with a higher appreciation of the need for sensitivity in making and posting such images. Presumably, the next time they confront such a subject, their new, higher understanding will factor into the decision process. If they then think: "This will definitely be an exploitative image if I make it, and based on what I've learned I shouldn't make it...but I'm going to, anyway"--then what they're about to do no longer qualifies as "good intentions".
    At that point (only at that point) making the photograph becomes "unethical".
     
  44. "Ernest, you've gone off the deep end by pretending Fred or I have tried to tell you what to do."
    John, you can rest easy.
    Please be 100% assured that I have no concerns whatever about you or Fred trying to "tell me what to do."
     
  45. Phylo, some people who have chosen a lifestyle can still be exploited by others. And I don't necessarily think people "need" to be "protected." I seek to avoid exploitation
    Yes, but exploitation in photography may come in both the making ( pointing at ) as well as the viewing of photographs, and not necessarily together. And as we seek to avoid it ( which I certainly don't disagree with ), then we might as well stop looking too.
     
  46. I agree, Phylo, there are a lot of photos to which I won't give a second glance when I come across them. Many of them are in the nudes section, the most exploitive section on PN, IMO. (For me, ethics comes with being able to make some value judgments, all legality aside. I say that not in response to anything you've said, but just to make it clear.)
     
  47. jtk

    jtk

    Ernest, you keep returning to the idea that a photograph can itself be unethical. Simultaneously you hold that it's a matter of one's intentions. I think there's a third path, which has to do with the common use of the term "ethics." Ethics are somewhere in between morality/law and personal preferences. They are typically both culturally shared and personal. That doesn't relate to "intentions," it relates to actions.
    There are also professional ethics...in journalism today that has to do with such things a Photoshop, and with payment to subjects being interviewed. Associated Press and Reuters spell out some of those ethical issues, and if one violates them one may lose an important professional channel for one's work. Those bad results would happen based upon the work one did, not upon one's intentions. One doesn't unintentionally reconstruct images or unintentionally pay people one is interviewing.
     
  48. "Ernest, you keep returning to the idea that a photograph can itself be unethical."
    What are you talking about, John? Where?
    This?
    "So in your opinion, Fred, this photo, being 'unethical', should not have been made?" (Nov. 12, 04:44 p.m.)
    If indeed that is what you are referring to, please re-read the post and note the ironic quotation marks I placed around "unethical".
    In context, I think the meaning of my question to Fred (for most readers, at least) is obvious.
     
  49. Ethics is all about the rules of fair play. Unlike morality which is based on behavior being consistent with immutable laws, ethical behavior is judged by how well one follows the rules of conduct generally accepted to apply to the situation. Congress has established and enforces an ethical code of conduct. Thus is is easy to accuse a politician taking bribes of unethical conduct and difficult to decide if photographing dying AIDS patients should be condemned out of hand.
    The AIDS matter has a multi-dimensional aspect. From an ethics perspective the appropriate questions to ask would be things like who has the power to stop me? And what are they willing to do about it? In some cases this sort of thing turns out to have the effect of being a solution in search of a problem.
    There are ethical issues one can find in situations concerning things like whether the responsibility for the thing applies equally to everyone who might have a direct role to play in them. Is the footsoldier as guilty of genocide as the general who gives him carte blanch to murder? Who has the ultimate ethical authority in the situation, the genocidal general or the offended foreign power which has an interest in restoring peace?
    The original question has a binary - on again - off again - flavor to it, but ethical matters are always judged from the perspective of a set of rules for conduct in a particular situation. Sometimes more than one system of rules might apply depending on the point of view of the person making the assessment. These judgments can be colored by a person believing that what is true for one member of a group is equally true for all member of the same group. It can also be colored by the idea that responsibility for unethical conduct can be inherited and passed down in time. Many Armenians in the US say Turkey is just a guilty of the Armenian Genocide now as when it took place some 95 years ago for example.
    As if that isn't enough, the rules of fair play, or in the case of an object like a photograph, the rules of fair value, do change over time. It isn't reasonable to try to find a connection between a soldier's war photograph and what one might make of it some 65-80 years after it was made. Same object - different context - leads to a different sense of its usefulness and value. It serves no purpose to say that the soldier ought not to have made the picture in the first place because that demonstrated unethical behavior, and then to turn around to say that the same photograph provides valuable documentation of what took place at the time.
    The photographer's motivation and intention was mentioned earlier, but I think that the context that would make it desirable to photograph the dead and dying, and the sensibilities of the people who would see the result are more important. That is, describe the game the photographer is playing at and list the rules of fair play for him to follow.
    I see these things as dark, complex issues. This isn't baseball. Where there is little clear idea of the consequences of what is taking place, how can one decide whether or not some rules are being followed? In whose opinion? Is your estimation of the ethical result of making the photograph the same now as it was last year? If not, do you think the ends justify the means? (Should you forgive the photographer his ethical breach because you like what became of it?)
    It just occurred to me that civil and social matters are quite different from criminal ones. Is it unethical for a photographer to take a picture of the victim of his own act of murder? This demonstrates how multiple sets of rules can apply to the same act. I'll admit that this is confusing. In fact, the whole thing is confusing because the heart of ethics is is all about responsibility and consequences, neither of which make much sense without a proper context to put them in.
    In short the most reasonable response to the original question I can come up with is - It all depends...
     
  50. "Ethics" and "moral philosophy" are both common titles for the same subfield of philosophy. Some academic departments prefer to offer courses in "the theory of value." The words "ethics" and "morality" vary somewhat in everyday usage, and reasonable and educated persons do indeed use them in various ways.
    Ethics
    is also the title of a philosophy journal dealing with questions of right and wrong, good and evil, etc.
    I personally think of "ethics" as an inquiry into what I should do. Hume and many other philosophers have made reference to "morals" or "the principles of morals" in such a way as to suggest that "ethics" for them is not merely a "code of ethics" (which it can also be) but also an academic sub-discipline in philosophy which is virtually synonymous with "moral philosophy."
    My own research and teaching field of political philosophy ("political theory" in political science departments) is also often interpreted as a subfield of ethics qua moral philosophy. My text this semester in a political theory course is Classics of Moral and Political Theory, but I also teach ethics in philosophy departments from time to time.
    It is always interesting to see the various related usages of these terms.
    --Lannie
     
  51. jtk

    jtk

    Ernest, I didn't notice that you'd used "ironic" quotation marks. I thought you used word reference quotation marks. :)
    I will point out that your insistance that YOU ("you") have the perfect and absolute understanding of the word "ethics" tells a common sort of story: You are so convinced that you have perfect and final understanding of the meaning of that word that you are uninterested in the questions and hypothetical (trial) answers posed by people who seem to be driven by curiosity.
    "Curiosity" is an interesting attribute. I think of it as a virtue.
    I don't know how my "quotation marks" appear on Ernest's monitor. Are they "ironic," do they simply point to words as words (eg the word "ironic") or are they misused (as is standard about half of the time) ?
     
  52. Albert, that's very well stated indeed.
    ---------------------
    John Kelly wrote: "I will point out that your insistance that YOU ("you") have the perfect and absolute understanding of the word "ethics"..."
    Again, John: where?
     
  53. Early in the thread, we were talking about photos of holocaust victims, so the Nazis have already been introduced. I hope that keeps me free of Godwin's law!
    There were many Germans who thought they were doing the right thing by honoring and fighting for their country and by ridding the world of what they sincerely thought was a menace. Those Germans acted unethically, whether they knew it or not and despite their best intentions, intentions which to the millions of dead were worthless.
    Ernest, I think you make a valid point, regarding some cases where intention (like pre-meditated murder) will make a difference in terms of ethical evaluations. And then there are other cases where the act and the result, not the intention, will determine the ethics.
    ________________________________________
    Lannie, you haven't offered a point of view. Why not?
     
  54. Those Germans acted unethically, whether they knew it or not and despite their best intentions, intentions which to the millions of dead were worthless.​
    Fred, as I understand your position, "right" is not merely a matter of conviction or even intention. If it were, then Hitler was a most ethical person, a ludicrous conclusion. I think that we are certainly on the same page there. I do think that the intent that Ernest speaks of is a relevant consideration, however, and I am not at all sure that the typical modern teleologists (such as utilitarians) are correct that acts must be evaluated solely on the basis of their consequences. In the case of the comparison Ernest was speaking of, the intent of those shooting the pictures for the resistance made their acts ethical, even if the photos had never seen the light of day and thus never had any impact on actual consequences. That raises the question of "intended consequences" as a possible relevant criterion. I interpreted Ernest's use of "motives" as suggesting something like intended consequences, although the ambiguity in the word "motive" makes me a bit shy about expressing it quite that way myself--and Ernest can speak for himself as to whether he meant "intent" when he said "motive," as opposed to the feeling or emotion that drives one at the time one acts. We do, after all, tend to use words such as "motive" to mean more than one thing.

    I am not a Kantian, but I do think that the emphasis that Kant gives to universalizability is also laudable. In other words, in taking pictures as in so many other things, I think that we should indeed act by a rule, maxim, or principle that we would have all other persons act by--if not the Categorical Imperative verbatim (which I will not bother to restate here), at least something like it, such as the Golden Rule. (I do not think that Kant had any patent on universalizability.)
    None of that is to say that an emphasis on consequences is entirely wide of the mark, anymore than is an emphasis on intent or motive. What I am suggesting is that the rightness of actions is perhaps a good bit more complicated than I once thought, and I think that I have defended all of the major schools of thought at one time or another--including Kant, the utilitarians, the emotivists, Hume (of the Treatise, at least), the Golden Rule, etc.
    Perhaps the right act has to meet all of the criteria mentioned: motive, intention, consequences, universalizability, etc. Perhaps these criteria are individually all necessary but hardly sufficient by themselves alone. It is interesting that the act utilitarians and Kantians squared off as if one view must be true and the other false. I have to say, however, that I am not sure that the reconciliation between consequences and universalizability offered by rule utilitarianism quite carried or carries the weight that some have placed upon it--including Strawson and the early Rawls. It might yet be more nearly the "truth" than more doctrinaire Kantian or act utilitarian dogmas.
    These are not issues that one dabbles in casually. I get passionate about ethical analysis, and I regret to say that, at the theoretical level, I am still a bit at sea after all these decades.
    Lannie, you haven't offered a point of view. Why not?​
    Fred, since ethics is my favorite field in philosophy, I am very disappointed that I do not have time to get into the thick of this one right now. Our college is being visited by the regional accrediting team this week, and I am woefully behind on things that should have been completed much earlier.
    But I just had to say a few words. I feel some sense of moral obligation. . . .
    In any case, Fred, I see you as suggesting the possibility of some objective criterion or criteria of right. Perhaps I am mistaken, since I have not read the thread carefully. In any case, it might yet be tomorrow evening before I can get by here again. I will be interested in seeing where you and the others are by then.
    --Lannie
     
  55. As for Godwin's law, Fred, well, we went to Hilter and the Holocaust straight out of the box.
    At least no one has called anyone else a fascist in this discussion--yet.
    --Lannie
     
  56. Lannie, here's how I'd put it. "Right" is a moving/moveable objective target. Objective in that it's beyond me and not just about how I feel about something and moving in that it's not fixed and can often be relative to eras and cultures.
     
  57. The question for me, Fred, is whether there might be principles of right that are indeed universal, not relative to culture. The Golden Rule surely comes around in a lot of different cultures, although what it implies does seem to move around a good bit--some inferring the necessity of going to war in the name of the Golden Rule, others insisting that it implies that one must always use peaceful means (Gandhi, King, etc.).
    May it suffice to say (for me right now, at least) that any principle that one might stand on (such as free speech, for example) might still have to be evaluated according to the Golden Rule before one insists upon applying it in a given case (e.g., speaking out in a given instance). This is not to deny that free speech is a universal right in some sense. It is to ask whether speaking out is always right. One can imagine a number of possible counter-examples where one has the option and the legal right of speaking out, but not necessarily the obligation--nor even the moral rights, notwithstanding the claim of legal right. In general, in fact, I would have to say that having the legal right to do something does not ipso facto imply either an obligation to do it or a moral right to do it. Indeed, one might be morally obligated in certain situations to forego the exercise of a right which few would dispute. (I am a near absolutist on First Amendment rights, for example, and I hope that no one would say that what I am saying suggests that I am backing off on free speech rights. That is not my point at all.)
    All of this would take us pretty far afield, I suppose, but it or something like it does come around in photography: does the right (legal or otherwise) to take a picture mean that it is always morally right to take the picture that one has a legal right to take?
    I rather doubt that!
    I have to drop this for now, even though I have left myself open to any number of possible counter-arguments, given the incompleteness of my position as stated. I also realize that I seem to be convoluting some distinct issues. I see the problem but no simple way to avoid that right now.
    Most troubling for me is the difference in language of "right " and "rights." The latter is usually a legal concept, and I have long held that law is reified morality. I am not sure of the logic of the transformation that takes place when one moves from "right" (as an adjective) to "rights" (a noun).
    That is yet another issue, and such issues are legion in ethical theory. . . .
    --Lannie
     
  58. Lannie, thank you for commenting capably and accurately on my behalf.
    I did indeed mean "conscious" motives when I used the word (= intent, intentions, intentionality).
    Can the domain of "ethics" even apply to unconscious mental activities?
    -----------------------------
    Albert's post illuminates very well, I think, some of the factors that apply.
    Without retracing the same ground, they are factors I was alluding to, when I offered the view in my initial post that the ethics of a given case "would seem to depend almost entirely on the circumstances--most of all, on the photographer's role in the situation, the nature of his relation to the subject, and his intentions"; and subsequently, that the ethical propriety would depend on "(1) the photographer's understanding of the subject and the situation, and (2) the nature of his intentions."
    -----------------------------
    Fred, you wrote:
    "There were many Germans who thought they were doing the right thing by honoring and fighting for their country and by ridding the world of what they sincerely thought was a menace. Those Germans acted unethically, whether they knew it or not and despite their best intentions, intentions which to the millions of dead were worthless."

    These two sentences contain broad generalizations that (in my opinion) cannot withstand scrutiny.
    In a context of ethics, the actions of individuals are seldom black or white (or in Albert's words, "binary"). Many--if not most--actions fall into grey areas, whose relative light- or darkness is determined by the actor's knowledge and intent. If there exsts doubt about either the knowledge or the intent of the actor, then any meaningful judgment requires further examination.
    Your first sentence lumps together all German soldiers who "thought they were doing the right thing"--i.e., those who fought under Rommel in the North African desert, who may never have harmed a civilian and had no other perspective on the war; and those on the eastern front, who formed firing squads to exterminate village after village of Jewish civilians in Poland, Ukraine and Russia. All German soldiers, everywhere, were fighting (per Hitler's domestic propaganda) to "rid the world of the menace" of Jewish-inspired capitalist and Jewish-inspired communist tyrannies, which had for too long blocked Germany's destiny and suppressed its possibilities. All German soldiers, according to your two sentences, acted unethically--just by being German soldiers.
    Please consider again your second sentence in particular, and its implications:
    "Those Germans acted unethically, whether they knew it or not and despite their best intentions, intentions which to the millions of dead were worthless."

    Does a soldier acting with the "best intentions" who, further, has no knowledge of the murderous actions carried out elsewhere by his nation's government and army, nonetheless "act unethically" just by obeying the laws of his country, by wearing the same uniform and fighting (as he believes) to support his nation's struggle against menacing foreign powers?
    Who has perfect knowledge, Fred?
    If one accepts the logic of your two cited sentences, then what have you to say about the men and women wearing U.S. uniforms today?
    U.S. bombs and bullets have wrought some terrible things in very recent memory--just review the headlines. If intention and knowledge don't matter--as you've said--then they, and all of us who support them, are arguably as culpable as German privates who died in the sands of Libya in 1942.
     
  59. Well, since fascism has loomed rather large in this discussion, guys, I will include this link even though it is not about photography:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/us/14nazis.html?hp
    I hope that Jeff and Mike will let it stand.
    --Lannie
     
  60. I think it's often a matter of the question and where the question gets us. Your original question here is so broad that it seems to beg to be answered (and was approached this way by many responders) with an "it depends . . ." sort of approach, lots of qualifications, lots of lack of clarity.
    I wonder if a more specific question relating to a particular photograph might have gotten very different kinds of answers, more relating to our ethics and more relating to photography.
     
  61. Ernest, the guys who killed Jews, gypsies, gay people, and others were unethical, even if they thought they were doing the right thing. I'm not concerned with soldiers who were on other fronts or not in combat. I wasn't talking about soldiers who weren't aware of the murderous actions of others. I was talking about the ones who did the murdering. I didn't think I needed to make that explicit. Now I have. The soldiers who murdered and aided in the murders and the murders themselves were unethical, regardless of the intentions of those carrying out or assisting in those murders.
     
  62. I'm sorry for stating the question in such a broad way, Fred. I was simply overcome by the picture that I saw when I checked out the original link:
    http://chronicle.com/article/Dont-Look-Away/125241/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en
    On a forum like this, however, I sometimes prefer the more open-ended questions in order to encourage participation.
    The picture shown in the link could be a place to start all over, I suppose. How would you suggest rephrasing the question vis-a-vis that photo?
    Apart from issues of the Holocaust or photography, I have to say that persons who fall back upon following orders in the military (or carrying out brutal orders in any office, for that matter) are among my least favorite people. They are de facto bullies, even when the evils they promote are relatively mild compared to what one sees in the photo--and surely de facto bullying is always evil in and of itself.
    In any case, as much as the photo pains me, I am glad that someone got that picture, especially of the little boy standing apart and of his (apparent) mother turning around to look at him. One can only try to imagine what thoughts and feelings where going through their minds as they were marched off to virtually certain destruction.
    It is hard to believe that people can be capable of doing that sort of thing, and yet many people are capable of it. I am still astonished at "man's inhumanity to man." Sorry for the sexist language, but the phrase has after all been around for quite awhile. . . .
    --Lannie
     
  63. Lannie, give me a minute. I'll see if something occurs to me. It will have to be better than discussing the ethics of Nazis killing Jews.
     
  64. "Ernest, the guys who killed Jews, gypsies, gay people, and others were unethical, even if they thought they were doing the right thing. Whatever their intentions, I don't care. I'm not concerned with soldiers who were on other fronts or not in combat. Did I really need to state that?"
    Jeez Louise, Fred.
    When I wrote earlier that the "ethics" of a person's actions depends in large part on his intentions, did I really need to state that I would not include "commiting mass murder" within the subset of "good intentions"?
    If not, what was the point of your statements, which I cited?
    Why don't we just read each other's minds?
     
  65. It will have to be better than discussing the ethics of Nazis killing Jews.​
    I'm sorry, Fred. I can only try to imagine the effect on you, given the power of such photographs over me. On another level, I am still shaking my head that men in uniform (including the corporate uniform of business suits--the presidency, etc.) are capable of being a party to such horrors, or that of Hiroshima, for that matter--and sometimes even routine, day-to-day corporate firings of the elderly, or anyone else for no defensible reason (not to equate the various types of horror)..
    As for a more problematic photo, there was one in the New York Times in the early to mid-nineties. At that time I was at Georgia Southern University, and the only way that we could get the Times during the week was via truck all the way down from Atlanta. A guy named Bob Dick from New York was sharing my office at the time. He was retired, but he didn't quite want to leave, and so we scrounged up another desk for him. Anyway, when he saw the picture in question of two women with eyes as big as silver dollars being herded off by a Nazi rifleman, the effect on him was absolutely devastating. It was as graphic a picture as I have ever seen in a major newspaper, showing full frontal nudity and therefore provoking a strong reaction from the Hasidim--but what "bit" in that picture were those terrified eyes.
    In any case, the Times defended its publication of the picture, and Bob said, "Surely this is at least a response to those who say that the Holocaust never happened." He was not capable of saying much more at that moment. Nor was I.
    I am glad that the picture was made and published, although I have never seen it since--and it was as powerful a picture as I think that I have ever seen in its capture of a moment of sheer horror.
    I think that the photographer and the Times did the right thing, in any case.
    --Lannie
     
  66. The picture that started this thread is, for me, an ethically easy one (though a difficult photo to look at). It's pretty simple, and most seem to agree, that the personal and historical importance of knowing and seeing the horror makes the taking and showing of this photo not only ethical, but perhaps leaning toward obligatory.
    THIS PHOTO and others like it that are in Leibovitz's A Photographer's Life, I think, would generate more controversy and therefore more critical thinking and substantiation of one's approach to right and wrong when it comes to a photograph. There is a lot written about these photos on line and elsewhere. Sontag, pictured, just before her death, had given Annie permission to take the photos. Sontag's son was horrified by its publication. There are more graphic ones, at the funeral home, which I can't find on line, which says a lot about how the powers that be may feel about it.
    What are the ethical and photographic tensions, if any, here? Do you consider them good photos? There are also photos of her dying and dead parents which, I think, are among her best. I think she just took them and I think they are genuine. Others think they're stunt-like. From several of the accounts I've read, I'm not that sympathetic with Sontag's son because he seemed to have other fish to fry about the relationship of Leibovitz and Sontag to begin with.
     
  67. This is an interesting topic but I thinh that death and dying is part of the fabric of life. In Australia it is unethical to show the faces of dead Aboriginal people without a public warning. This warning precedes all documentaries and photography of Aboriginal people as these people find it offensive to see one of their own who has since passed on. That is their culture and I respect that.
    I have a picture that I took of a dead bird that I found by the roadside and wanted to give it a dignified burial. I find that as I get older, death becomes much more acceptable to me.
    00XgIm-302093684.jpg
     
  68. I should have said that photographs of death and dying have also become much more acceptable to me.
     
  69. Peter, that's an interesting photograph and a beautiful bird--it looks almost like a butterfly.
    How did you make it? It appears that the heel of your palm and your fingertips are pressing against a sheet of glass.
     
  70. The photograph at the beginning of the OT was almost certainly made by a Nazi or a German journalist. The photographer likely had no moral qualms about that, as he had been brain washed by the Nazi propaganda into considering the victims as menaces and of no greater respect than that of a cow going to slaughter. Unethical from his point (unless he was naively innocent about the outcome), yes. If it had been made by a morally responsable individual that would be another thing. Given history there is in my mind no unethical question in displaying the photo by non-Nazi sympathisers. On the contrary.
    The photographer who made thousands of pictures of the about to die in the killing fields of Cambodia, including relatives, acted unethically. However, he did not have the same luxury of choice as we would have, sitting in our living rooms. Had he not made the images, he would have been immediately slaughtered and someone else would have done the evil job.
    In less extreme cases, the documenting of someone's demise and even its difusion afterwards is in my mind perfectly ethical, provided that agreement has been obtained from the dying (as I presume happened with Avedon's father, Sontag).
    I spent some time helping my father when he was dying, as did my brother in regard to my mother some time later in a distant place, but neither of us thought to ask if photography would be acceptable to the dying and didn't attempt to record their last days. I am sure, though, that by discussing sensitively the desire of the family to document their last days, not sensationally but compassionately, they would have considered that action by photography as both ethical and caring.
     
  71. There are other ways of crystallizing the issue if the OP had that intention. An example would be, "Ought a photographer take pictures of dead and dying people being put into mass graves?" I don't know if anyone would write about ethics, per se, but words like 'right' and 'wrong' would be used a lot. Perhaps the same thing. How did 'conscience' escape mention?
    The OP also asked for opinions about other subjects that might fall into the same camp as dead and dying people. Lying politicians and deceptive advertising, perhaps?
     
  72. jtk

    jtk

    When ideas are contorted into sentences that rely on badly used words, they self-destruct.
    In this case the mis-application of "ethics" to an easily apprehended legal situation (soldiers, even Hitler's, were ruled by law) has diverted the discussion away from utilitarian understanding of ethics by applying the word wrongly. There is no such thing, save as a graphic (eg typesetting exercise) as a non-utilitarian understanding of a word. A word is a tool.
    Hitler's soldiers were often tried and convicted in courts of law...both Hitler's military courts during the Third Reich and the courts of the victorious allies. These were not ethical exercises, they were legal exercises. People were hung, and that had entirely to do with law, nothing to do with ethics. One set of laws hung Nazis, another set of laws was vanquished.
     
  73. I would really like to add to this mix because this is interesting. Death and dying evokes an emotion within me, especially when I see a photograph portraying this. However what evokes a different and way more powerful emotion in me is impending death especially death inflicted upon human beings by other human beings.
    The most powerful image I have ever seen is this image of an execution during the Vietnam War from Time Life. The shooter is a South Vietnamese officer and the arbitrary execution is of an alleged Viet Cong sympathiser. This visual resides in my brain like no other image that I have seen ( other than a few of my own ). It actually physically "touches" something in my stomach when i look at it.
     
  74. This is the photo I spoke of.
    00XgOl-302205584.jpg
     
  75. Peter, you're probably aware already of the further background of that photo, and the photographer's own reservations about it. For anyone who is not, they are worth considering in the context of this thread. (The photo is included in the Wikipedia links below, in case it gets deleted by the moderators):
    -----------------------------------------
    Nguyễn Văn Lém (referred to as Captain Bảy Lốp) (died 1 February 1968 in Saigon) was a member of the Viet Cong who was summarily executed in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The execution was captured on film by photojournalist Eddie Adams, and the momentous image became a symbol of the inhumanity of war. The execution was explained at the time as being the consequence of Lém's suspected guerilla activity and war crimes, and otherwise due to a general "wartime mentality."
    On the second day of Tet, amid fierce street fighting, Lém was captured and brought to Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, then Chief of the Republic of Vietnam National Police. Using his personal sidearm, General Loan summarily executed Lém in front of AP photographer Eddie Adams and NBC television cameraman Vo Suu. The photograph and footage were broadcast worldwide, galvanizing the anti-war movement; Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph.
    South Vietnamese sources said that Lém commanded a Viet Cong death squad, which on that day had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers' families. Corroborating with this, Lém was captured at the site of a mass grave that included the bodies of at least seven police family members. Photographer Adams confirmed the South Vietnamese account, although he was only present for the execution. Lém's widow confirmed that her husband was a member of the Viet Cong and she did not see him after the Tet Offensive began. Shortly after the execution, a South Vietnamese official who had not been present said that Lém was only a political operative.
    Though military lawyers have yet to definitively decide whether Loan's action violated the Geneva Conventions for treatment of prisoners of war (Lém had not been wearing a uniform; nor was he, it is alleged, fighting enemy soldiers at the time), where POW status was granted independently of the laws of war; it was limited to Viet Cong seized during military operations .

    > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nguy%E1%BB%85n_V%C4%83n_L%C3%A9m
    -----------------------------------------
    General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon is a photograph taken by Eddie Adams on February 1, 1968. It shows South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Viet Cong officer in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The event was also captured by NBC News film cameras, but Adams' photograph remains the defining image.
    There is also some dispute as to the identity of the man who is being executed in the photograph. It has been claimed that he was either Nguyễn Văn Lém or Le Cong Na, a similar looking man who was also a member of the Viet Cong and died during the Tet Offensive. The families of both men claimed that the Viet Cong officer in the photo looks very similar to their relative. Neither family could say for sure.
    Lém was captured and brought to Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, then Chief of the Republic of Viet Nam National Police. Using his personal sidearm, General Loan summarily executed Lém...
    South Vietnamese sources state that Lém commanded a Viet Cong death squad, which on that day had murdered South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers' families; these sources said that Lém was captured near the site of a ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives, some of whom were the families of General Loan's deputy and close friend, and six of whom were Loan's godchildren. Photographer Adams confirmed the South Vietnamese account, although he was only present for the execution. Lém's widow confirmed that her husband was a member of the Viet Cong and she did not see him after the Tet Offensive began. Shortly after the execution, a South Vietnamese official who had not been present said that Lém was only a political operative.
    The photo won Adams the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, though he was later said to have regretted the impact it had. The image became an anti-war icon. Concerning General Nguyễn and his famous photograph, Eddie Adams later wrote in Time:
    "The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths ... What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?"
    Adams later apologized in person to General Loan and his family for the damage it did to his reputation. When General Loan died of cancer in his new home of Virginia, Adams praised him: "The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nguy%E1%BB%85n_Ng%E1%BB%8Dc_Loan
    --------------------------------------------
    The full text of Adams' 1998 Time comments is here:
    > http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,988783,00.html
     
  76. Ernest, thank you very much for that information, I can understand why the photographer had reservations but I am so glad that it was taken. It would be impossible to quantify the effect this image has had on mankind or even the amount of lives it may have saved. One thing is for sure and that is a clear message comes to me from this. The expressions of the two on the left of the image ( the shooter and onlooker ) have captured the essence of war, that essence being that men become something else and that death seems a pure formality and lives are governed by expedience.
    Thanks again Ernest
     
  77. In this case the mis-application of "ethics" to an easily apprehended legal situation (soldiers, even Hitler's, were ruled by law) has diverted the discussion away from utilitarian understanding of ethics by applying the word wrongly.​
    John, Hitler's soldiers were ruled by unlawful law--unjust laws. In any case, we are not arguing whether Hitler's legions acted ethically. We are arguing (in the philosophical sense) about what kinds of photographs are ethical.
    Even so, ethical principles can provide a basis for evaluating the rightness of a law or social practice. The law cannot, however, provide a basis for ethically evaluating anything. The law simply is, and what it is is about power, not right. The power that a legal system or even a legal act may have in a given cultural milieu does nothing whatsoever to advance any claim of the moral or ethical legitimacy of the law. Even Hitler managed to finally get himself elected to office. So what? Did he suddenly thereby gain moral/ethical legitimacy? Of course not.
    Power cannot legitimize itself. If it could, then Thrasymachus would have been right: might would indeed make right; but might does not make right. Hitler's momentary power advantage, even when it was more or less legal and accepted by many Germans, did not serve to give moral legitimacy to his cause. Majorities or other expressions of power do not confer any claim of right. That is one reason that we have the very idea of a Bill of Rights. Majority rule does not trump a single claim of right. The individual, for example, has the rights he or she has regardless of whether or not the majority wishes to run roughshod over those rights.
    Now back to the ethics of photography. Zounds, John. What are you arguing, anyway?
    --Lannie
     
  78. When my Mum was passing, I looked at the scene, a large sepia photo of Her as a child, above the bed.My Mother looked straight at me. "No photos!" I respected Her wishes. The scene forever in my memory..I also hate doing snaps of "dead people" in Funeral homes. Different ways of mourning.
     
  79. jtk

    jtk

    Lannie's right that ethics, like most big vague ideas, can be understood differently by different people and in different situations.
    However, ethics and law are two very different ideas.
    When atrocities by soldiers are brought up, the issue tends to become legal rather than ethical. A soldier that violates his regulations is subject to punishment by his own officers, or should he be on the wrong side, according to the laws of the winning side. I doubt any Nazis were hung for ethical reasons, they were hung for violations of laws.
    When a society is governed by subtle and constant rules, ethics may become a vanished concern by comparison to obedience to experts, priests, mullahs, rabbis.
     
  80. Thanks, John, for the clarification.
    --Lannie
     
  81. jtk

    jtk

    Lannie, I think that when someone (was it you?) argues that "intentions" are relevant to ethics he abandons the idea that the photographs themselves (per your most recent post) are themselves ethical or unethical. Which concerns you ethically: the photograph or the photographing?
    Additionally, "unjust" is a new idea...you've tossed it casually into the discussion as if you/we knew what it meant. I think it's better to stay focused on the original topic.
    Hitler's soldiers were (probably) bound mostly by proper military laws, just as were the US soldiers at MyLai (US military laws became more demanding of individual soldiers afterward). That both armies engaged in atrocities, just as have all armies since forever, is yet another kind of discussion... nobody's attempted to link "atrocity" to "ethics" any more than they have with "justice." One man's atrocity (Agent Orange in Vietnam, Katyn Forrest in Poland) is another man's law-abiding service.
     
  82. John, I do not believe that photographs are inherently ethical or unethical. Persons or their actions are. The question behind this thread was not the photos themselves, but the motives, intentions, and even purposes involved on the part of those making and disseminating the photos.
    As for invoking the idea of what is "just" or "unjust," anytime anyone starts mixing legal and ethical considerations in the same conversation, then issues of "just" or "unjust" laws naturally spring to my mind. You are right that that is a major digression, but, since I thought that you were addressing the issue of whether soldiers were acting ethically or not through appeals to the law, I thought that the digression might be warranted. I'm sorry for not reading you correctly.
    In any case, I did not "casually" toss the issue of "just laws" into the conversation. It is one of the most cogent topics in political theory: the issue of what to do when moral obligation and legal obligation come into conflict.
    That issue seemed relevant to me in the present context, from discussions of the Nazi v. resistance photographers to discussions of how morally culpable soldiers were who were engaged in actions such as those being shown in the photos of the Holocaust.
    Not all discussions of ethics involve the law, of course, but, since you raised the issue of law, I thought that in some sense you were inviting us into that controversial topic of political philosophy: just versus unjust laws.
    --Lannie
     
  83. Ethical rules do not change. It is the wish of the person you photograph that determines if you can take a picture and then you can display it. As physician I don't think pictures of dead or sick one near death have any charm for me. It may be important in medical jurisprudence or as a documentation in medical records. Regards. ifti.
     
  84. Lannie mentioned the Golden Rule as an example of a universal principle. Of course we all know the text, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This universal principle for good behavior actually defines the basis for reciprocity in human relations. Parse it like this: "Do unto [others] as you would have them do unto you." The reason for highlighting others is that other relationship terms can be inserted in its place to allow us to define reciprocity between specific groups of people. That is, the general meaning for the expression taught as it was taught to me was, "Do unto [all others] as you would have them do unto you."
    But there is no reason to think that the principle cannot be rewritten for more specific circumstances, "Do unto [family members] as ...", and "Do unto [friends], [enemies], [customers], [competitors] & etc., & etc.." Each one of these expressions can yield a valid basis for behavior for an individual that could be applied in ways that are not necessarily the same for everyone. The foundation for this lies in the fact that people really do separate others into groups, and they gauge their behavior accordingly. The central factor in all this being the things a person is willing suffer himself in order to do the same thing to another.
    For example one might say, "Lie, cheat and steal from outsiders as much as you are willing to allow them to lie, cheat and steal from you." Or another different variation, "Love one another as yourself."
    Ethical behavior gets so thorny because behavior itself is specific, not general. Humans easily distinguish near acquaintances from distant ones, we recognize power and 'gamesmanship', affection and suspicion, public and private, and we may choose to behave in ways we feel are appropriate for each circumstance when it occurs. This sort of distinction sets up early experiences many people have with situational ethics. You may be told to never treat Daddy's boss in exactly the same way as you treat your sister, for example.
    This takes us back to the beginning. The photographer's ethics are all about the commitments he has made and what he binds himself to do for the life of the project. Many relationships can exist at the same time. To assess how well he carries out his ethical obligations, one must be able to find out which rules apply. His behavior is ethical with respect to what, exactly?
     
  85. jtk

    jtk

    I think Albert's comments make a lot of sense.
    Soldiers are creatures of law, not of individuality. That's why military law is detailed and specific, even going so far (thanks evidently to My Ly) as to tell soldiers that they must resist orders they believe to be illegal. Military law doesn't say, nor do commanders, "Do what you think best and don't do what you disagree with." That's probably the main distinction between terrorists and soldiers...it's certainly not a matter of who kills the most innocents (think Hiroshima Vs 9/11 for example).
    Ethics have to do more with sub-groups than with larger societies because the larger are inevitably more diverse, which dilutes special values (eg ethical ones). For example, in some societies it's unethical for men to compete for other men's goods, and in others it's encouraged: the "winner" is understood to be better for the species. "Golden rule" is a nice idea, but how does it apply when someone decides his neighbor is no longer worthy, or even human, because he's cursed by the Deity DeJour?
     
  86. Dr. Ahmad reconfirms that the only avenue that is sure, is that of the wish of the dying person. The ethics involved is that of seeking to obtain the acceptance (or not) of the person being photographed.
    Discussion about ethics in military, government, medecine, engineering design and construction, advertising, or any other domain of activity is either secondary or unimportant in regard to the question of this OT. The seeking of the wishes of the dying is a cross-cultural ethical act and not related as such to the values of a specific community. However, what may be related to the latter may well condition the dying person's reponse to the photographer.
     
  87. jtk

    jtk

    While Arthur is right, IMO (my ethical perspective) to seek approval of the dying if one wants to photograph them, one challenge (another spin on the ethics) is that the dying are frequently not even vaguely aware of their own state or of visiting interlopers....and even if they are fairly aware, they may prefer the state (possibly memory review) through which they're passing to the issues a photographer would raise.
    The dying are often hard at work at their ultimate life project.
    To discuss the tasks and process and awareness of the dying it's crucial to read the definitive text (easy reading, universally read by hospice workers, nurses et al):
    http://www.amazon.com/Death-Dying-Scribner-Classics/dp/0684842238
    Alternatively you can pick up condensed versions of those ideas (Kubler-Ross's pioneering ideas) in pamphlet forms at most nursing homes, hospice centers, and hospitals.
     
  88. jtk

    jtk

    I do have the sense that some of us are inexperienced with dying people. Most likely those of us who lost friends and acquaintances in the early phases of the AIDS crisis have that sort of experience.
    I linked this earlier: an interview with a relatively young, prominent historian, in bed with tubes, fed coffee through a hole in his neck, who was highly alert and committed to his role as a "public intellectual" and writer at the highest possible level nearly to the moment of his death, a moment he knew would come shortly:
    http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11185
     
  89. I have a wonderful picture of my 95-year-old grandmother that recently had the fourth or fifth ischemia and surely doesn't have her whole life ahead. It is on film and probably the most beautiful picture I have ever taken (it hangs in my bedroom). I published it shortly but it didn't last one hour on the internet. I often thought about uploading it on PN but I was never able to.
     
  90. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, was she aware of you, did you converse? Was she in her own isolated state? Was she joyous? Suffering? Medicated? Those questions could be related to ethics...
    Why didn't her beautiful image "last one hour on the internet?"
    "never able to".... I made some images of my mother in a late stage that I would never post... because I want to think of her about five years earlier, in her late Seventies, when she seemed like a flower to me.
     
  91. John
    She was not aware of me while I was photographing her. She recognizes people very briefly and then falls back into a limb. I completely share your thoughts about your mother. I think it is very hard to think "photographically" in cases like this.
     
  92. jtk

    jtk

    How did you feel about photographing her at the time? Did you feel you were recording something valuable for the future, engaged in something intimate, stepping over personal limits? My last photos of my mother were made to let some family members know what was becoming of her...not necessarily a kind act on my part. Not fully ethical, but useful. Utility and ethics are sometimes at odds, of course.
     
  93. John
    I was being both a photographer and her grandson. I wanted to have my photo of her for the future and for her daughters (my mom and her sisters) and I also wanted to step over personal limits, photographically speaking. I transformed her into my (unconscious) model. It turned out to be a beautiful photo because I managed to get her modest and peaceful personality in it, despite her total mental confusion. I recognize her in that photo and that doesn't happen in all photos. Here I recall Roland Barthes. I would love for you to see it but I am not ready to show it around yet, at least as long as she is alive.
     
  94. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, thanks for those responses. They're familiar. When I photographed my mother in decline I also experienced the "personal limits" you mentioned (probably ethical limits).
    But my impression was that she, a fine photographer in her youth and attentive to it for nearly 70 years, appreciated the photographic significance of the situation...and was an active participant.
     
  95. John, that's great. My aunt, that is taking care of my grandmother at the present time, is not a photographer at all and doesn't understand my point of view. She didn't like the fact that I wanted to take pictures and I had to go visit my grandma when she was not around. I wonder if my aunt will appreciate this photo when grandma will pass away.
     
  96. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, it sounds to me like your photograph, and maybe mine, are a lot like photojournalism. The photojournalists images are (usually I think) accompanied by written information, often short essays. If I choose not to destroy my last, most distressing images of my mother I think I should write a note to go along with them...specifically authorizing whoever finds them to destroy them if they want.
    That raises another ethical issue: what to do with photographs, negatives, letters etc that we inherit but do not necessarily understand, that may picture people we can't identify. I've segregated them according to beauty and other factors, destroying perhaps a third...should probably destroy many more. Those I've identified as most important (and best visually) I've already scanned, printed, and distributed as sets to primary family.
     
  97. Those kind of photographs you're talking about definitely need some written information, maybe in the back. This way, they might become interesting even for people that cannot identify the portrayed subjects.
    I have always trouble destroying photographs, it makes me feel weird, almost like I am destroying a part of existence. Photography testifies the existence of its subjects.
     
  98. jtk

    jtk

    Photography as testimony is an interesting metaphor.
    How about posting that as a thread ? It's worth some thought.
     
  99. John
    I will post it tomorrow, it's 3 am here. It is an interesting subject to discuss.
     
  100. jtk

    jtk

    Ifti ( http://www.photo.net/photodb/user?user_id=2138430) ... I think some of us (me, for example) may have missed the significance of your post. I visited your Portfolio and it struck me that your interest is in the beautiful, simple, and tender....the kinds of things some of us (me, for example) may in our current photography casually ignore. I was also interested in your comment about discipline...an enviable trait.
    I'd be very interested in more of your thoughts. Do they reflect your profession, your culture or religion, something that seems to you to be universal?
    Your approach to photography may almost be the polar opposite of mine, at least on the surface. That suggest to me that there's a lot of potential for intellectual light, or at least sparks :)
     

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