Are you an ethical photographer?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by invisibleflash, May 12, 2019.

  1. That’s a myth except in the very extreme cases, which should be handled by therapists, not clergymen.
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  2. Pun for the day!
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  3. Yes, things start with good intentions. It’s what they turn into in the long run, that’s the problem.
    Ricochetrider and hectorroldan like this.
  4. In ethics related to photography there are potential differences between what a picture shows and what the situation of the picture actually was. The ethics of a photo may be judged on what it depicts, lacking a greater context, a context which if we knew might change our ethical inclinations about what we now see.

    Also, I've seen viewers assume that photographers are advocating for certain situations they photograph. Sometimes it's to bring attention to something or get people to think about something, something many might find distasteful. Photographing something does not mean you approve of that something, necessarily.

    In an older and no-longer-available critique, a photographer here came down hard on me for the photo below, telling me it was approving of the exploitation of a younger man he had probably met when he was a minor by an older man. I was new at photography then, so I got into with him and was pretty upset. I don't think I'd respond that way today. I'm more open to allowing other people to react in a variety of ways, even if they want to project negative stuff onto me. Without intending to, I obviously provoked him, and would simply be glad he thought enough to speak his mind about it and actually opened me up to a potential way that someone else might naturally see it. Those kinds of interactions along the way have tended to make me less judgmental about others' work (with an occasional admitted lapse).

    This does not mean I don't have strong ethical involvement in my own photos and those of others. It means that my tolerance seems to expand over time rather than contract when personal expression through art is at play.

    Just another of the many good reasons to be gay and leave the business of procreation to the experts.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  5. It is true that with a photograph, all we see is that portion of one second that is captured. we have no idea, nor can we ever know, what was happening in the larger context of the situation even during and certainly not before or after the shot.

    Judgmental tho we humans may be, who cannot admit to this simple fact?

    here’s a story:

    I once joined a f b photography group and one of the very first images I saw there was of what appeared to be a young woman? girl? She looked for all the world to be a younger teenager, and was making an obscene gesture at the camera. Quite nearby was a male person of indeterminate age, who had turned his back to the camera and seemed to be moving away as the shot wa captured. It was a street setting- the shot was taken at night, and it did appear that these were two homeless people; the young female looked like she could have been a runaway- although there wasn’t any way to know for certain what their situation was.

    Just the same, my very first thought was “wow did this photographer just out this runaway on f_cking f@ce book?!?!?” (but no way could I know this) And of course there were many many (mostly negative) comments and a massive argument as can only be had by armchair internet warriors ensued.

    The photographer, in defense mode, ended up telling several versions of their story about the photo and got pretty upset that they were being basically beat up badly over this shot (which was pretty quickly deleted by admins). but the story’s base was that these were in fact street (or homeless) people- and it varied from there, pretty wildly.

    I started to tell this story earlier and decided not to but I think the conversation has progressed enough that this seems to me to be a good example of what we are talking about- illustrated anecdotally but with something for both sides of the “ethics” viewpoint:

    Did the photographer make an error in judgement in photographing a young teenage girl (runaway or no) who was apparently a street person and her (assumed) companion?
    Am I (and everyone else) making too many assumptions? Was the photographer dead to rights in making this shot? Was it staged or truly candid?
    No way to know.

    Was the shot compelling? mmmm.
    Maybe yes and maybe no. Was it gutsy? Did it tell a story? Maybe but what WAS the story?

    Again, Was it real or staged? No way to know.

    After this post and the uproar it caused, this person, the photographer posted another image, basically of them making an obscene gesture at the camera, supposedly aimed at the community or group. Not long after that the person pretty much disappeared off this group page.

    I realized at the time that I had no idea what the photo was, if it was for real, and what the point of it was, but I almost certainly said something like “hey if this is a runaway, she could be wanted by the law, she could have any number of people looking for her, and you just outed her to the entire world”.

    So, I get it. people take street shots. Some photographers are way more “in your face” than others. i guess I see the validity of this; again who am I to judge, who am I to say that anyone is right or wrong in what they do with their camera.
  6. “Were you there?” seems an adequate personal check in such cases.
    Prejudice is human nature born of experience.
    Acting on it is human choice.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  7. Even though a context can be often ambiguous, a photo can sometimes/often capture a wider context (that’s not explicitly shown) to the point where we may well have a good idea of what’s going on. No, we can never be 100% sure. Then again, there’s not much we can be 100% sure of, even in real life. When I see water drops outside my window forming puddles on the ground and soaking the streets, it’s safe to assume it’s raining even though it could be some Hollywood tech guy with a weather making machine sent to fool me. If I see a closeup photo of two hands, one male and one female, and I can see just enough of the sleeve on the wrist of each person to suggest that the woman’s is white satin and the man’s is dark wool, and the male fingers are putting a gold band onto the fourth finger of the female’s left hand, I’d be well within my rights to assume (and probably be right 99% of the time) that the wider context was a wedding. Photography actually often depends on our ability to extrapolate a wider context from a narrower picture, through the use of symbolism and other shorthands to context. We see a gun and a certain type of uniform and smoke billowing in an unknown background, good bet it’s a war. Since we’ll come across the photo itself in some context, that will help us with whether it’s staged or not. Yes, we could always be fooled, but we’re more used to not being fooled and photos have long operated on our associative powers and understanding of visual symbols.

    So, you judge based on the info you have and info you can infer from the info you have. And context, and other factors available.

    The best thing when making ethical judgments in photography is to look from as many sides and perspectives as you can. The girl in your story may very well not want to be outed on the Internet if she’s a willing runaway. What if, though, she had been brainwashed by the man in the picture and it’s more akin to kidnapping and the photo being on Facebook could be a lead in allowing her parents to find her. Just as the ethics of the photo is hard to judge and depends on many nuanced factors, so does the ethics of many real-life situations we run into. We’re always having to assess many factors in figuring out what’s going on both in life and in a photo. The best I can do is to do the best I can, but not give up on taking ethical stands when the need arises just because I’m never 100% sure I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  8. The "Hippocratic Oath..." ends with (paraphrased here for simplicity): "I won't take any more pictures" I don't think that's where any of us want to go. I know first hand that getting too wrapped up with being uniquely original, or bound to "the higher order of art" or even an obsessive obedience to someone's definition of ethics is a real creativity killer. Reject such BS and be happy doing what you're doing. What we know is that when people push the envelope, magic happens.

    J. Riley Stewart
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  9. You make a good point. Though it’s a far cry from “I want to be ethical” to “I won’t take any more pictures” unless we’re on the ,
    most slippery slope imaginable. Many good decisions can advise us empathetically and still creatively without guiding us over a cliff.
  10. Due to a variety of reasons I had to be involved or witness several ethics discussions and debates, I was waiting a bit before posting again in this discussion.

    The thing is: most discussions about moral and ethics quickly (almost regardless of the context) fall on the same repetitive patterns of critical exposure, life threatening situations, privacy invasion, under-age situations, sex, "the so called right to know" at te expenses of other people, etc. It's so repetitive once you have seen 10 of them, the rest is just the same over and over, nothing new. And honestly those discussions are EASY, not to say obvious.

    But, when you talk about ethics and morals, and go deep in philosophy or values, in the sense of what comes before the other thing (cause and effect, and small seeds causing a global effect) then things get interesting.

    Consider magazines, beauty. How easy models and photographers can approach beauty from a non practical and also unrealistic angle. Even the readers of that magazine will fail to see the issues of trying to match an artificial set of beauty, or better said: unrealistic because probably the only thing untouched in the picture is the chair or the glasses, everything else has been altered. Is that ethical? what are the long term effects specially on teens?

    Consider weddings. In the past people might use excess of make up and extensive photo shoots to end up appearing "great" even if that image wouldn't even resemble the look of the natural person, to the point of being unrecognizable. That's past, today there are amazing tools in make up and digital fixing that bring this to another level, not to mention people INSISTING to the photographer they want to look just like the artificial person they produce with their own cell phones apps and filters. Is that ethical?

    My wife is a lawyer... we often discuss the sad news of "missing person". Most times if it's a man, the person looks the same on every picture and also in real life. When it's about a woman... even a teenager... you can see a set of 5 pictures and she looks like a total different person on each picture, not to mention IMPOSSIBLE TO RECOGNIZE IN PERSON, but hey, those are the pictures available, nobody is thinking "hey take a pic as you are in case you go missing", the result is you can walk next to that woman and fail to recognize her, this is more evident in some regions than others. Is that ethical?

    What about parents? sometimes you see "missing person" and the woman in the picture looks like a stripper, only for your surprise you find out she is under age, sometimes 15 years old and you wonder "how is this little girl taking pictures like that?", I've seen some internet discussions where people say "oh poor girl, but she looks like a $lut".

    My point here is the same as someone way older than me said during one of these discussions: it's about people, it's not exactly about professions but people being ethical or not. Once you start thinking about it, it makes sense. This can be added to the expectations and values from the people themselves (regardless of the photographer). Many clients will refuse a session of "ethical pictures", remember many business are not ethical and so people want to do unethical stuff to stay relevant.
  11. I think a lot would be better about the world if we didn't think of beauty as the superficial prettiness we've come to assume. What if a pretty girl and a pretty sunset and smooth skin and a particularly-shaped nose and the most ideally-composed and technically sharp and purified photo turned out not to be so beautiful? Where would we find beauty then?

    Look deeper.

    Ethics may follow.
  12. In numbers, in patterns, in trends: people like to talk about extreme or heroic situations. That's why most discussions about this are so predictable, and most people love double standards, sometimes people don't know how to discuss matters to detect and expose the double standards people live by, but when they learn, it's easier.

    I worked at a large newspaper (in fact the largest in my region) and whenever a crime took place (let's say a murder), they would include the exact address showing the pics of the place, BUT if the crime took place at a bank, food chain restaurant, etc (in short: big business or specially a customer who pays advertising), the news would only include a mention of "a finance organization" or "food place" with no pictures, far away pictures, or cleverly covered logos and names. This kind of things were up to "editorial" decisions, not the photographer, they would choose among the available pictures. And I witnessed situations where they said nothing, posted nothing and asked the personal to keep their mouth shut. But yes, from time to time we all had to attend conferences and discussions about ethics, that was... terrible a joke because of what we managed to see month after month.

    About beauty, yes. There have been interesting research about beauty in diff regions showing pictures of what some consider pretty, and interesting enough some people react "too thin, too weak" to the things we consider pretty. A multi episode documentary taking place in England (I don't remember if it was the BBC) picked several participants among men and women and followed eating and training to see how they changed. The "experts" explained and predicted the outcomes. It was interesting.

    I'm... going off topic... on that documentary the experts explained that most of the results that we considered beauty were useless in nature becase those people had very low fat reserves, and they would be the first to die during a crisis, while average people would have more resources and backup to survive hunger or illnesses.
  13. Wanted to bring attention to another matter in terms of ethical photographers, and that's unrealistic places.

    While traveling and managing a travel website always tried to capture realistic views, that includes scale, enough to say: I know the places.

    The thing is with the boom of the internet lots of websites (including big corporate ones) featuring touristic destinations, but when you see the pictures... hey that's not fair, looks awesome!!! but when people arrive they wonder "hey, this is it?, so small!!" and that's because lots of people want to make the most out of a picture even if it ends up being unrealistic, altering completely the sense of scale. The practical consequences of this... is people travel great distances only to come back disappointed. I received several honest and sad comments about this on one of my websites (issue not caused by me). Sure, some people look amazing but are an absolute rip off, all because people want to gain followers and post the most unrealistic pics.
  14. I think you're painting with a broad and vague brush. If you have an issue with what someone has said in this thread, quote it and respond to it. Be specific in your critique. Otherwise, your accusations are incomprehensible to me.
    One of the early iterations of beauty I like comes from the Greek word "ὥρα" meaning "hour." Accordingly, beauty was associated with things "being in their hour." A ripe fruit was, in that sense, beautiful. A woman (or man, heaven forbid) not just looking but acting her/his age was beautiful. For me, beauty is not about different cultures' ideas of what is pretty. It's much deeper than that.

    My own (and I speak for myself here) ethics of photography has something to do with going deeper, even when that is done by authentically dwelling on the surface. It's not about this or that rule of "I will never photograph this" or "I will never engage in this behavior when I have my camera with me." It's not a list of dos and don'ts. It starts with sincerity and ends with empathy ... and encompasses a whole lot of nuance, uncertainty, risk-taking, and willingness to make mistakes and learn in between. But, surely, no single act or photo defines it.
    Jochen likes this.
  15. That's the same as saying "be clear on how you pointed a gun at me"

    what gun? pointing when? your posts sounds off topic and trying to find offense or issues where there are none.

    I said and I repeat: once someone has participated on enough discussions about ethics, specially with philosophy applied OR philosophy training (that's different), it's easy to see patterns repeat over and over. The training means watching carefully the arguments and how people apply them, and that's very... very repetitive. Usually, talking about education, it serves little purpose because once those patterns emerge, the real topics are not being discussed, instead it's just the same mechanics over and over.

    About predictable I mean (and you can see this over and over), nudity, sex, religion, gender, expo...

    / you sound like wanting attention, like it or not, deal with it, but don't build arguments about accusations, perhaps you are just unable to see what I mean and that's all. I will not reply again.
  16. Fixed, found the magic button / tool in the forum.
  17. I was beginning to think it was just me...
  18. Somebody had a


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  19. “I think you're painting with a broad and vague brush. If you have an issue with what someone has said in this thread, quote it and respond to it. Be specific in your critique. Otherwise, your accusations are incomprehensible to me.”

    So much for practicing what one preaches.....
    Same old conflicted psychology.....
    But at least I don’t use the magic button.

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