Are you an ethical photographer?

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

  1. Besides knowing that pushing your hand into someone’s face without warning is no way to start or have a dialogue..... his ethical responsibility should begin on equal footing to mine (i don't think that is always remembered & respected)...Then we might consider the circumstances that can make the grayer areas relevant. For example, was I invading his privacy as it appears. No. It wasn't at question. So I made assumptions.
    He decided that photos of the property from the street were not allowed. So he came after me and wanted the camera & film. Up to this point it seemed black & white. He was clearly in the wrong. But there was more to it.
    As the confrontation unfolded I did find out the reason for his aggression. I believe he was one of the owners of the property & buildings that my camera was focused on. He thought he was protecting the property... setting aside legalities that's gray. He assumed I had nefarious plans for the site. also grayish. I later heard there had been some protesting of the proposed future of the property. more gray in context.
    It de-escalated only after I considered his story. Then the man said he would call the police and I rested against a car and said 'ok va bene' (all right)

    My compass for a ethical standard in regards to photography is at it's strongest when it blends empathy & compassion if i can muster it with self interest. A balance of give and take. With photography that very often means considerations beyond the obvious. Look past the black & white and consider with respect the gray areas.

    I recently asked myself a question of my ethics as photographer. I posted a nude photo in no words. I had to consider the gray area. The photo was of a long ago love. The black & white of it .. 1st it was with consent (the model not the cat). 2nd I know she was very happy with the photo being exhibited while we were together. But then we lost contact many years back. So I had to ask myself a question knowing there could be no definitive answer. Would she be ok with it exhibited now so many years later.? It was not particularly a tough call on this one more like checking in on my ethics..

    When there is no definitive answer is when the importance of ethics really thrives. The easy answers hardly need a gauge. The tough ones are the gray ones that counter our own desires/self interests. Inevitably i find the gray ones need to be balanced by give and take. The question of posting the nude went in favor of my wishes. My ethical balance will be maintained by favoring another next time, at least once.
  2. I often take a fictional stance to what I'm seeing in a photo, unless I have reason to believe the photo is forensic or journalistic. My reaction to the back story of Inoneeye's photo, and I've long operated like this to the extent I can, is to hit home why. The story I see or the one that is shown isn't necessarily commensurate with or fully representative of the one that took place when the shot was made. So, no harm done if I simply see aggression in the photo and confrontation without much more narrative than that. But, if my mind does start to fill in a narrative—and most often I think that narrative is guided by visual cues and not simply my mind's wanderings—it does so not necessarily expecting that narrative to correspond with a particular reality. Of course, good art does all the time also lead my mind to wander but that's often to places I don't mistake for the reality of the situation under which the art was made.

    So, for me, some of the ethics here involve my not quickly or even slowly judging other photographers by what I see, because what I see may only be what I think I see and the reality I think I'm judging may not be the reality at all. Because photography is so tied to the "real world" but also such a break from the real world in terms of often losing context, background, or important factual information, ethical judgments about a photographer and a photo are just as likely to be off the rails as valid.

    More information and back story may allow for ethical judgments to be made with more depth and clarity. But without that information, appreciation of the more basic and instinctual nature and less actuality-based nature of what's seen (at face value) may better serve the viewer and the photo than projections of what "really" may have taken place.

    "Art is a lie that tells the truth." —Picasso

    Sometimes it's worth getting the emotional and instinctual truth from the lie (the lessons of the fiction) than from assuming the photo is an accurate portrayal of something or that that actual something can be known from this particular portrayal of it.
  3. I wonder if the pro(an)tagonist of Inoneeye's photo isn't having more of a say than he might have imagined. With the back story, we get his point of view and motivation as well as some of the history of the building. He may actually feel vindicated that at least that much awareness on the viewers' parts now comes into view. The photo is of confrontation. Had the man just allowed the picture to be taken without getting involved, there would be more of a fictional feeling to it, the ruins of a building, posters, life going by. Not much factual or historical info to glean. By intruding, he takes the photo from one of observation to one of interaction and he brings another sort of human but still vague truth into focus. It's not until we learn the actual story that we have an idea of the history and facts that were important to HIM. And now we know.

    Like many here have suggested photographers behave in being polite, possibly asking permission, not being needlessly aggressive, we might hope for the same behavior from folks on the street and pedestrians and bystanders. Then again, had the guy been more polite, Inoneeye may never have gotten such a spontaneous and action-packed picture out of it. So the guy's aggressive behavior is a good thing ??? for a photographer who craves tension and pushback. Maybe just so.

    With the mixture of art and ethics, it might just be that life happens and, one way or the other, we can make the best of it.
    inoneeye likes this.
  4. you gave me reason to pause. Are my ethics variable at any given moment in particular when applied to art ? I think so. My b&w ethics core may be unchanged and well defined in all areas of my life, (not forgetting to take into account fluidity... adjustments from the impact of time). But I think for me the gray areas have looser boundaries in art appreciation. I allow more room to stretch the boundaries.
  5. I wrote a long post (not posted) but I'm not sure if you are interested on looking into this, your comment got my attention due to involvement with the topic (I never been to war but I know people who were there, diff ranks), what I know is not something coming from "someone told me", my work got me involved and later researched a bit more. To me it's been surprising what people who went to war think in general or how war affects their ETHICS and their opinions about it in general in modern society. What I know from first hand is difficult to translate so if I drop a short comment it would make no sense, if I leave the long post it would be boring and would appear off topic right away.

    Surprisingly enough, a lot of people who have been to war and battle have split and diverse opinions, from supporting peace to supporting war because it's the only way to get some things done. But we are talking about ethics, and sometimes people have to do questionable things to achieve a higher positive result for a lot of people, it sounds so generic but it's complex, but that's the deep and practical involvement of ethics in life: things that sometimes don't make sense but will do in the long term. Some people experience interesting changes as rejecting war but then finding themselves wanting to go to battle and improve as soldiers (some people in the past were forced to enlist and that's some of their experience).

    I will leave it here, related to ethics: the most surprising (to me) testimonial from people who went to war is how they value friendship and brotherhood, even to the point of missing war and not missing it, but valuing and needing what came with it, the brotherhood. Some will tell you themselves they rather go back to war than live in this "civil" society, specially when people can have the most terrible behavior because it's cool, you could find comments alike from veterans who think lots of youngsters don't deserve the country they live in. There are tints of PTSD and institutionalization (it's when people lost the ability to live outside certain environment with rules). Hearing about people who gave orders to do some questionable things (well, it's war, people get killed) to achieve a better good for large groups of people is shocking, and hearing people coming from war suddenly one day feeling comfortable talking about the many things they value from war and are absent in the civil society is... shocking, and it makes you see how this civil society takes place lacking ethics.

    Something also involved with what I posted here, + ethics is... we don't have to agree with things in order to make sense or to be true. This means "I don't personally think it makes sense that you go to war and then you enjoy it and want to go back", it's not my opinion, it's what I learned from people who were there and said it themselves, it's also on conferences, on testimonials, on books, and even a matter of study, not my opinion. Same with ethics.

    Your post is filled with lots of valuable DETAILED and specific points worth discussing or expanding. It's easy to find discussions about ethics trying to over simplify things and that's related to what I mention on most of this discussions are kinda repetitive (that's fine, but it lacks depth), but you bring something else, something that I find valuable. In general these kind of situations involve looking in depth the interactions, sometimes a kind intervention with respect addressing the photographer makes everything better, even opening doors to talk, have an interesting and educative conversation and learn. Sometimes we have to go back and the photographer has to do this to open up the options with the person involved or crossing the street. Culture and past experiences mean a lot in this scenario.

    Please allow me to share a life threatening experience that ended in death. I know this person (rest in peace). He was a tour guide in my country and knew several native languages. He brought people to some specific region far away from the city, it was a group of Japanese people, he gave strong advice DON'T TAKE PICTURES HERE, and went to the market. They were interacting with the people and children, suddenly one tourist shot a picture of a kid, the tour guide and driver tried to reach him but it was too late, someone from the locality started yelling "kidnapping kid, kidnapping". Things escalated quickly and the people beat the *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* out of the group who ended escaping to the police station and locked the doors, the people attacked the police station and burned part of the place, being hit and beaten wasn't the worst part: the driver ended up killed, murdered would be the expression I think.​

    This appeared on the news, and life is surprising because a couple of years later I had the chance to hear the story from the tour guide himself. This affected him so much he entered a huge depression making his drinking problems worse, he was such... such a nice guy. Fair to say he never recovered. Added to what I'm sharing, I visited some isolated places in the "forest", specially caves and surprisingly some people were watching, just watching. Language can be a barrier there. Years later I was explained by a cave explorer if I knew X place, I said I didn't want to explore it, and I he proceeded to explain, there: people watch you and then follow you, if you do something they don't like (you might step on something or shot a pic of a sacred place that looks like stone to you) they will beat the *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* out of you. This is very common, NO, there are no signs, and talking is a waste of time: language is a barrier.

    Same thing happened to me, the guy wasn't nice at all and so I immaturely reacted in defense. I was shooting the top of a door, public place, they complained about me shooting the art inside that was private (but in public), they behaved badly but this is not about me, it's about your story and the basic similarities: there is a lot of confusion in the moment and talking politely would have helped, won't you agree? but sometimes people start a fire.

    What if YOU are someone important? or worked for someone important? would things change? Ohhh, would that be related to ethics? that's interesting. Would the action would be the same but somehow people would show double standards? that's... some interesting ethics discussion because it pushes us to look deeper.

    I went to visit X place having art paintings. The lady reacted very badly when I approached (to ask permission and introduce myself), the camera got her attention and I CAN UNDERSTAND THAT. She was rude, yes, her point: she didn't want pictures of the paintings becase then people copy them, in fact she had to deal with painters copying their work in the past. I wasn't the same inexperienced photographer back then so I was patient, listed and explained: "may I?" I represent X newspaper (the largest in the region) and I came here for XX and ZZ. She didn't want the pictures exposed but interesting enough, representing the newspaper I was allowed to. Funny huh? her paintings would reach thousands of people if published, but she was ok with it. I made the call and decided not to include the pictures in the publication, but if you look at it closely, it's contradicting.

    Funny thing: I've been to places where the same thing takes, place, and somehow people shot with their phones and NOBODY SAID ANYTHING, even if there was a sign saying FORBIDDEN and the guards were telling everyone not to. The thing about discussing ethics is... just like your post, it involves long, detailed information to really, really understand what's going on and what happened, intentions aside. But that's too long and rarely happens. I find your post interesting.

    During my involvement with news reporters and photographers from that newspaper (and TV, etc), things changed a lot. Some forced courses were boring because it was all about the same, but some were very interesting because casual situations got more about ethics than what appeared to be. There is a difference (regarding teaching and learning) when it comes to case studies VS anecdotes and arguments. The thing is, long detailed descriptions of the situations are in fact required.

    One common thing in such discussions was the right to know, the right to inform, private property and the shocking but simple: you/we don't own what you/we see. It's like WIFI, just because it reaches my home, doesn't mean I can use it. Coming back to the war comment... many ugly things happened in wars and people are not often able to understand it. As years go by and we walk far away from wars, things loose their meaning and it's easier to criticize and attack things that were in fact needed, or at least impossible to avoid. That's something difficult to discuss but it has lots of potential to educate about ethics.
  6. I feel like I want to spin this a little differently just to try it on for size. The fact that you allow looser boundaries in art may just be part of your ethics core.

    I actually think there is a grand ethical case to be made for allowing art to stretch boundaries. It has often been art that has pushed culture forward. While core ethical values of society seem based on stalwarts like Judeo-Christian teachings or natural law, which have been around for ages, the situations in which we apply those ethics change drastically over time and that's where a lot of controversy comes in.

    You have photographers like Mapplethorpe, Arbus, Gilden, and Clark confronting people into making all sorts of ethical judgments about their work and, perhaps more importantly, their subject matter and relationship to it. But, in a sense, they all opened doors by taking the risk (whether they saw it as risk or not) and opened up a conversation and introduced people to some very important aspects of life. I think we'd find a lot of the same truths in works of literature and other arts as well.

    Questioning ethics, sometimes by flouting norms, may be an ethical necessity. I still think each of these artists had their limits. It's just that their limits didn't necessarily manifest as the rest of the world might have hoped or expected. And, in doing so, they opened eyes and minds to a different way of seeing.
  7. sure. makes sense. allowing for... I am aware that i give photographers more wiggle room, leeway to push the boundaries than i would afford to others. or even myself.
    Bruce Gilden comes to mind. His sometimes in your face approach to street photography crosses my self imposed boundaries But because i do see it as art and relevant I open the door and relax the boundaries.
    My ethics would not permit me to 'mug' strangers in the street. I Don't hold Gilden to my core ethics. or consider myself hypocritical as viewer. So yeah it is part of my variable ethics core even when I don't consider it ethical to do on my part.
    I don't have the same ethics standard for art as I expect from myself day to day. In fact I expect it to sometimes challenge ethical standards.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2020
  8. Ahh. OK. I understand better what you're saying.

    As a matter of fact, I was originally going to ask why you said "looser boundaries for art appreciation" instead of "looser boundaries for art" which would include your own making of it. But it makes sense that you hold yourself to a different ethical standard than other photographers.
  9. again i pause. I was initially only thinking of being a viewer. But with the distinction you pose... i think i do allow myself more leeway behind the camera, brush, etc than in front of it. I find that I open the boundaries that I would not consider crossing in my usual interactions with others.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2020
    samstevens likes this.
  10. Interesting read. So Whitmore is upset (understandably) at the photographer's behavior. And she decides to upload a video taken of the incident. I guess that's fighting fire with fire but it seems to me it's calling more attention to an episode she wanted kept private to begin with. I'm not sure the best way to try and curtail photography of oneself is to upload a video of oneself being photographed.
  11. Why worry about ethics at all.
  12. Ethics?
    Why the hang up on such a quaint idea?
    Who y’all carryin’ all those bricks for?
    Push the limit as far as you can, Man.
    To each his own.
    Do whatever you can......imagine.
    Call it..........Art.

    Nothing new under the sun, except your....... exposure.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2020
  13. I don’t know what you’re thinking of, because you couch it only in vague references. When I talk about stretching ethical boundaries and applying stalwart ethical teachings to an evolving society I’m talking about such specific things as society’s collective notion at one time that interracial marriage was morally wrong. That ethical application, the boundary we put around interracial love and marriage, got moved at a certain point. I’m talking about Arbus’s making “freaks” visible being much more morally controversial at one point than it currently is and her work helping change the notion of how we thought about certain people. It’s got zero to do with ethics being a quaint notion.
  14. You can’t make an ethical case for eliminating the boundaries of ethical behavior.
  15. I agree. Of course that’s not what Inoneeye and I are talking about or doing, but it’s a good point to emphasize, I suppose.
  16. One of the problems here is your refusal to engage in a dialog about specifics. I just gave two very specific examples of what I mean by pushing ethical boundaries, one in life and one in art, and you come back with a very general aphorism that “you can’t make an ethical case for eliminating the boundaries of ethical behavior” where you’ve turned pushing into eliminating.

    If you don’t see Arbus as having pushed ethical boundaries in a positive way and you don’t see accepting interracial marriage as a positive ethical push, say why.
  17. Because they aren’t “pushing” anything new or profound.
    The principle of treating all fairly has been around as long as human history.
    I didn’t learn that from photography.
    The emphasis isn’t upon the humanity but upon the distinction from the group.
    Shock value.
    It comes across to me as a misguided, insincere, theatric. The commercialization of victimhood.
    I expect people are not driven to suicide primarily from external factors so much as internal personal demons.
    And that demands a personal insight into the individual.
    Not something as simple and two dimensional as a photograph, which we seem to agree is sketchy at best when it comes to assessing reality.

    If all of this darkness is so good for feeding the Human Spirit, why all of the suicide and self destruction?

    You cannot photograph what will be, beyond what has already been. That is hardly a tool for profound Enlightenment. At least beyond personal finite experience.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2020
  18. The pictures of the Hubble platform are a great example. As much as they appeal to people in a strictly aesthetic way, it is the reality behind them that lends the real appeal. It is always somewhat of a shock when you try to convince people that the color is added.

    I suppose a more exact point would be that Photography is supplemental at best when it comes to getting a handle on Truth.

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