Year one essay: Is photography ethical or unethical

Is photography ethical or unethical?

This essay will discuss the ethics behind photographing a young girls dead corpse but first we need to bear in mind that ethics may be different from person to person and can be influenced by level of education, cultural inputs and the way a person has be nurtured. This is why the NPPA code of ethics is an agreed code that it is expected that visual artists to uphold the following standards within their daily work:

  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects
  2. Resist staging photographs
  3. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Avoid create a biased representation in the work. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects.
  4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity, giving special consideration when needed.
  5. Do not intentionally contribute to alter or seek to alter or influence events.
  6. Editing is to maintain the integrity of the photographic images content and context, do not manipulate image in a way that could mislead viewer or misrepresent subjects.
  7. Do not pay or reward sources or subjects materially for information or participation.
  8. Do not accept gifts, favors or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

This guideline have been put in place to prevent photographs from causing great harm by being callously intrusive or by being manipulated.

The following is based around the NPPA code of ethics, and how photojournalists defy the ethical code. The photographs below demonstrate how the photographer has taken an opportunity to stage their photograph which defies several of the codes of ethics, such as sabotaging the efforts of other journalists as if somebody came after they would not know the body had been altered which means that the photographs that they take will not be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of the subject and the photograph which can be misleading and cause harm to the audience.

Could photographing a crime become unethical, even if it is to document the tragic loss of lives due to underdeveloped society? Some people believe that this is necessary to trigger emotions from the viewers of such situations in order to create a reaction that would make the audience want to do something to resolve this instead of ignoring the truth that the pain and suffering of the innocent and vulnerable is still a major issue in the world. However when does photographing a graphically unpleasant subject become unethical?

Image

Above is a photograph of fifteen year-old Fabienne Cherisma who was shot dead by police at approximately 4pm, January 19th 2010 and this photograph was taken by Paul Hansen.

With this photograph there is a code set by NPPA which it is arguable that the photographer of this image has broken a code which states that you should treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see. Which with this being of a murder of somebody’s fifteen year old daughter there is a very good point that claims this to be an invasion of the lives that have been effected by this crime, but also due to the girls age she is still counted as venerable even though she is dead does mean that the photograph has not taken advantage of this in order to improve his own career.

However it could also be argued that this tragedy is in the best interest of the public to hear of cases like this, where the authorities are taking advantage of the authority they have been given. Which people deserve to hear about in order to be aware of the goings on in other countries, which from knowing these situations it helps to influence people into trying to prevent these tragedies from becoming a regular occurrence.

Image

This photograph above was also of fifteen year-old Fabienne Cherisma who was shot dead by police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti at approximately 4pm, January 19th 2010 and this photograph was taken by photographer Naphen Weber.

This photograph shows a group of photographers gathering around the body of the young girl trying to get the ‘best’ photograph and as you can tell by the facial expressions of the photographers this does not emotionally affect them they have become numb to the sight of the death of both innocent and young victims. Which to you and me this would be a distressing sight yet these photographers most likely go home to a family and think nothing more about this. I personally wonder how these men can laugh amongst themselves but may very well have a child of a similar age.

It is shocking how the photographers at the scene can be so casual, about the incident that they are photographing as you can see one of the photographers is smiling towards the camera or perhaps laughing to one of the other photographer they all seam numb from the tragedy that they are recording and look as though no compassion is felt for the victim. It is evident that they feel no remorse in photograph the death of another countries child would this have been different if the victim was of the same nationality? When Sontag, Regarding the pain of others (2003) p57 speaks of photographing the fallen during war she say’s

“To display the dead, after all, is what the enemy does.”

Which is done to be a souvenir of a victory or in memorial to the loss on their own side. But with the photographs of Fabienne Cherisma.

As you can tell that this photograph of the same subject but has been adjusted to become more photogenic from “As can be seen in another image shot by Paul Henson, the body has been moved, perhaps to show more of the blood on the concrete and possibly make the image more commercially appealing  to the media. As this creates a more dramatized feel, which can create more demand for this photograph than the initial one as it has a stronger shock appeal. As Sontag (2003) p.20 stated,

“The weight of words, the shock of photos. The hunt for more dramatic (as they’re often described) images drives the photographic enterprise.”

In agreement with Tim Gidal (1973:6) when he summed up the qualities needed by a photojournalist;

“The genuine reporter – and by this we mean the rare phenomenon of the passionately committed photojournalist – personally experiences what he captures on film: laughter and tears, joy and sorrow, tragedy and comedy. It is only through his subjective experience of the objective facts that the photographer can become a witness to his time. His alertness and his gift of observation distinguish his work from that of others – not as an artist, but related to the artist by virtue of this talent of creative observation.”

It could be argued that it is ethical for a photographer to document a crime by recording the events as they had happened; the brutal truth and as emotionally powerful a scene as it was found. However, as the above photographs show, some photographers could be accused of crossing the line into the realms of the unethical by adjusting the evidence to help make their photographs not only document the truth of a horrific incident but to make them more photogenic and appealing for newspapers and their readership; to make them more shocking, or provocative.

Which comparison between this photograph and the one taken earlier there is evidence to suggest that the person/s responsible for moving the subjects body with no dignity or respect it looks as though the body has been lifted and just dumped by the way the blood in this photograph looks fresh and there is a greater quantity of it than in the initial photograph. This breaks the NPPA code of ethics where all subjects are to be treated with respect and dignity.

The photographers seem to be unable to feel human emotions when confronted by situations such as these where young lives become a way to make money and no respect or condolences are felt towards the decease or their family in grieving.

My essay has been based around three photographs of the body of Fabienne Cherisma, which has gone against several of the NPPA code of ethics these are;

  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects
  2. Resist staging photographs
  3. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity, giving special consideration when needed.
  4. Do not intentionally contribute to alter or seek to alter or influence events.
  5. Editing is to maintain the integrity of the photographic images content and context, do not manipulate image in a way that could mislead viewer or misrepresent subjects.
  6. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

Bibliography:

http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2011/01/are-there-any-ethics-in-street-photography/

http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2011/04/is-this-photo-ethical/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photojournalism#Ethical_and_legal_considerations

http://nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/ethics.html

Sontag, S. Regarding the pain of others. London, Penguin, 2003, 2nd Edition

Wells, L. Photography: A Critical Introduction. London and New York, Routledge, First published 1997

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