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Photojournalists discuss the ethics of non-intervention

By dpreview staff on Jul 30, 2012 at 23:59 GMT

The photojournalistic tradition of trying not to play a role in the scene you're shooting doesn't answer every ethical dilemma. While the viewing audience of news images would hope that the photographer hasn't intervened or staged the image, does that mean the journalist should simply observe acts of violence and crime? British newspaper The Guardian has spoken to eight photographers who've had to make the decision whether to shoot or act in such situations. Their perspectives (and regrets) are presented alongside a slideshow of the often harrowing images they've taken.

Comments

Total comments: 60
alan11gts
By alan11gts (Aug 5, 2012)

It would be quite a dilemma to have one photojournalist on the ground being attacked and one on the perimeter of the attack. Do you suppose the photojournalist on the ground is hoping the one standing will document his/her demise or lend a hand.

1 upvote
Hen3ry
By Hen3ry (Aug 2, 2012)

Wonderful series. As a reporter in words and also in pictures, I know the dilemmas all too well. Just last week I walked away from photographing a particular situation in a festival (for goodness sake!) because it involved cruelty to which I objected. My photographing it or otherwise made no difference to the world -- a bunch of tourists was practically wetting their pants to get their pictures to take home and impress their neighbors -- but for me it was just wrong.

Sure that's a soft case; there are harder cases I don’t want to recall. But yes, I have typed out stories with tears in my eyes. And yes, I have intervened on occasion, fully understanding that any intervention has to be in depth and long term. You have to live with yourself.

2 upvotes
WilliamJ
By WilliamJ (Aug 5, 2012)

Pro-photo-journalism is "pro" for more than just the ability to take good pictures, that's a fact.

On a disaster field, one has to take cornelian decisions that can't be taken by anyone else, just like the decisions a real surgeon has to take to amputate a leg or trephine a skull. What would you decide to do if you had to take this type of decision ? Most simply could not... and that's why they should not say "I would have done that" or "that should have been done".

0 upvotes
dtphoto
By dtphoto (Aug 1, 2012)

Story #3 is my favorite - we're humans first, photographers second.

2 upvotes
IamRichard
By IamRichard (Aug 2, 2012)

Well said!

0 upvotes
NancyP
By NancyP (Jul 31, 2012)

Police abuse - bystanders snapping away with camera phones can make the case against police who shoot unarmed non-violent suspects. The Oakland CA transit police shooting/manslaughter of a few years ago is a case in point. Why do you think that police try to grab witnesses' cameras immediately after such an event?

1 upvote
NancyP
By NancyP (Jul 31, 2012)

I will point out that iconic photographs and film clips have changed the views of many, many people and thus changed political history.
Emmett Till's postmortem photo in Jet in 1955 (google, I am running out of characters)
Selma, Alabama, and other Civil Rights conflicts.
Vietnam.
Photos are EVIDENCE, or at least used to be regarded as evidence by viewers.
Expert-vetted photos are still legal evidence (expert is checking for computational evidence of localized alteration aka "photoshopping").

Why do you think that the US Armed Forces put such pressure on the photographers to be "embedded"? Why do you think that there was a ban on publication of photos of returning caskets at Dover AFB? Not because of privacy concerns, the US Armed Forces excuse - the caskets are indistinguishable beneath the flags.

1 upvote
WilliamJ
By WilliamJ (Aug 2, 2012)

Not totally true. Photo are witnesses, not evidences because it doesn't prove anything most of the time: what happened before the shot, or in another angle, or the eve ? A man shot to hurt ? To kill ? To assassinate or to protect ? Is the one who shot in the picture really the one whose bullet hit the victim/criminal ? Photo is not ballistic too...

Sorry but the image that tells all is a dangerous fantasy as is the super-heroe whon intervene and knows instantly what's going on and who is the mechant and who is the victim on the crime scene !

So yes, photographs may be regarded as "evidences" by some (inperfect) laws but not all over the world because a witness can be wrong in his statement, by will or accident. For a little thinking yet entertaining session have a look at the excellent Alfred Hitchcock Hour's episode " I Saw the Whole Thing" played by the so good John Forsythe.

0 upvotes
zahidpix
By zahidpix (Jul 31, 2012)

Being an active photojournalist for the past 40 years I have come across many situation like these, bomb blasts, urban riots and others. My job is to photograph the situation. My newspaper or news agency employers are paying me to photograph the situation where they have sent me. I think I am there to produce and record what I see. Its not my job to help people and throw away my camera and when your Editor asks in the evening where are the pictures and I tell him the good job I have done trying to save a person from the mob, he will fire me. So we photojournalists are observers not the saviors of the victims.

4 upvotes
Trampakoulas
By Trampakoulas (Aug 1, 2012)

sad. Just sad.

3 upvotes
mischivo
By mischivo (Aug 2, 2012)

Let's turn this around for just a moment. If you're a victim or person in need, how would you feel about a photojournalist taking your photo and heading off on his merry way? You can do this exercise by replacing yourself with a family member, such as a spouse, child, or parent. Would you think it was excusable because they had a more important job to do? Is the tiny possibility of that photographer being fired for interfering or missing a deadline an appropriate excuse? Is your job worth a life?

3 upvotes
DcnMarty
By DcnMarty (Aug 2, 2012)

At the Nuremberg trials, much the same excuse was used. Just doing your job is not an excuse to forget your humanity.

7 upvotes
Chuck Lantz
By Chuck Lantz (Aug 2, 2012)

The news is filled with stories about clerks, cab drivers and so on who stepped into a situation to help a victim, and was then fired. But in every case, the most grateful person is the victim themselves.

If your intervention can help someone, then drop the camera and be human. You can always shoot the aftermath.

2 upvotes
h2k
By h2k (Jul 31, 2012)

DPR, thanks for that very interesting link. The Guardian is one of my favorite English language online media anyway.

Long time ago i decided not to persue the career of a news journalist and more specificially the career of a news photographer. What i dreaded was the constant time pressure and - in the case of the photographer - the sometimes complex technical aspects of telling a story.

So i do something else for my money, sitting in an peaceful village doing an nice, slightly boring job with handsome pecuniary reward, but less "status" and "importance" than a news journalist. And the Guardian's remarkable stories gave me just another justification for having chosen the easy way.

2 upvotes
WilliamJ
By WilliamJ (Aug 2, 2012)

About The Guardian, this newspaper made one of the very best TV ad I've ever seen. So true, so deep: http://youtu.be/E3h-T3KQNxU

A strong lesson for the ones of us who proclaim a single photo is an evidence.

0 upvotes
LuW
By LuW (Jul 31, 2012)

Sometimes stepping in on a one on one closed scene would be good
Stepping into a violent street mob scene would be idiotic
You would become part of the carnage

1 upvote
Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Jul 31, 2012)

To be honest, photo journalists don't get paid much to produce images of dogs, cats, flowers, ducks, pretty landscapes, or folks smiling at a party. The Pulitzer Committee isn't interested in fluff either. If the employer sends them into a danger zone, images of carnage, destruction, or mayhem are mandatory. On the other hand, phone cameras may decimate the need for such forays or hazards.

0 upvotes
Camediadude
By Camediadude (Jul 31, 2012)

Chilling images, stories ...

1 upvote
T cameron
By T cameron (Jul 31, 2012)

We are humans first, photographers second. Never forget that.

8 upvotes
manni
By manni (Jul 31, 2012)

Interesting read - thanks for the link. In general it's a really bad newspaper, the Guardian, but this was interesting.

1 upvote
CFynn
By CFynn (Aug 1, 2012)

Well I'd rather have the Guardian than any newspaper owned by Murdoch, the Barclay brothers, Richard Desmond, Viscount Rothermere or Alexander Lebedev.

3 upvotes
sasoph
By sasoph (Aug 6, 2012)

The Guardian is subject to the same need for advertising revenue as all the above papers. Yet, they refuse to ever discuss the role this plays in their "reporting".

They unquestioningly reported govt lies about Iraq's weapons inspectors being impeded by Saddam Hussein (rather than their being "advised" to leave by the USA), and refused to interview Scott Ritter (head inspector) on the lack of WMDs and the implacable march to war.

They did it all over again with lies about Libya & now Syria.

"The report makes no mention of the fact that members of the Guardian Media Group Board and/or the Scott Trust have links with the corporate media, New Labour, Cadbury Schweppes, KPMG Corporate Finance, the chemicals company Hickson International Plc, Fenner Plc, the investment management company Rathbone Brothers Plc, global investment company Lehman Brothers, global financial services firm Morgan Stanley, the Bank of England..."
http://www.medialens.org/alerts/11/081126_living_our_values.php

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
1 upvote
sasoph
By sasoph (Aug 6, 2012)

Cont'd:
"Are we really to believe that a newspaper embedded in these establishment and corporate networks, and dependent on advertisers for 75 per cent of its revenues, can provide uncompromised coverage of a world dominated, and exploited, by these same powerful interests?

The Guardian claims to “desire to build trust in the media by becoming increasingly transparent about the decisions we reach and the way we implement them in both our editorial and commercial operations.” (LOV, p. 3)

A good place to start would be for GNM to tell us exactly how much money it takes from oil giants, car companies, airlines and other businesses heavily dependent on fossil-fuel consumption."

Well worth a read - The hidden history of the Guardian newspaper:
http://www.medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2617

Herman and Chomsky's elucidation of the Propaganda Model under which the media operate is illuminating, as are Media Lens' books "Guardians of Power" and "Newspeak in the 21st century".

1 upvote
jeffoto
By jeffoto (Jul 31, 2012)

Without pictures such as these, how would we know what is happening in the world? Images of famine, violence, etc ... have raised awareness and changed public, and political minds for decades. Without these photos/photographers, we'd be more ignorant about what is going on than we already are.

2 upvotes
mischivo
By mischivo (Aug 2, 2012)

Easily: first hand accounts. Journalism isn't defined by its visual aspects. We still read, don't we?

0 upvotes
Hen3ry
By Hen3ry (Aug 2, 2012)

We do read -- but as both a writer and photographer, I know the power of a graphic image. It is foolish to discount that. Think about it: we can see from birth -- it's natural, automatic, hard-wired. We have to learn language and then learn to read. A first hand account in words is much more highly processed by both the giver and the receiver than a photo taken and seen.

0 upvotes
ChrisKramer1
By ChrisKramer1 (Jul 31, 2012)

In civil law countries, such as Germany, members of the public are under an obligation to assist and rescue people in need. Quite apart from that, I fail to see how holding an expensive camera should exempt you from helping a starving, injured child.

In the UK particularly, I would very much like to see photographers at riots arrested on a charge of incitement to riot, just to see what a prosecutor would make of it. I am not convinced that some of them "happen to be there" when a riot occurs. On the contrary, I believe they are informed by the perpetrators when and where a riot will occur well in advance. Does their presence encourage violent disorder? Let the jury decide.

0 upvotes
Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Jul 31, 2012)

Would absence of photographers make rioters less restive or police more orderly? How many riots were prompted by the thousands of cameras that converged to cover OWS? Who would throw a rock, or toss an incendiary, if they were on camera and could be identified? In recent history, what share of riots have been "planned" anyway? I can think only of one civil law country where, in the 1930s, pogroms were deliberately instigated. Should the prosecutors have blamed (or did they bless) the photographers?

Comment edited 40 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
mas54
By mas54 (Jul 31, 2012)

This article appeared nearly a week ago on other sites. Are you just looking to fill space?

3 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Jul 31, 2012)

It was published on Friday and I didn't have a chance to write it up until Monday. Nearly a week ago is an exaggeration. I concluded there would be people who hadn't seen it and might find it interesting.

12 upvotes
Jeff Peterman
By Jeff Peterman (Jul 31, 2012)

Fascinating article. I think that in every case, the photographers acted reasonably. In most cases where they didn't intervene, trying to do so probably would have ended up with failure and their own serious injury - and no photograph. Instead, there photograph could tell the story and help others in the future.

0 upvotes
alanjdooley
By alanjdooley (Jul 31, 2012)

Most of the comments criticizing the PhoJo are being made by people who (a) are not journalists and (b) have never faced much threat, and certainly not combat or street violence. Hindsight is also 20-20 vision. Criticism from afar and afterward is NOT a luxury the photographer had. Concerning fires and accidents -- unfortunately, they occur. And while one may choose not to publish the photo for some reason, a journalist, who's job is to record these kinds of tragedies, must shoot first and judge later. Otherwise they are simply censoring the situation based solely on their own values.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Beestripe
By Beestripe (Jul 31, 2012)

Famously, Kevin Carter killed himself in large part because of his Pulitzer Prize winning photograph - http://i.imgur.com/KtIz2.jpg
He never helped the child.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Carter
Obviously there is a limit how far one can morally detach themselves as a 'photographer'.

1 upvote
JackM
By JackM (Jul 31, 2012)

"Carter reported to taking the picture, because it was his 'job title', and leaving"

Comment edited 8 minutes after posting
1 upvote
onlooker
By onlooker (Jul 31, 2012)

> Famously, Kevin Carter killed himself in large part because of his Pulitzer Prize winning photograph

His suicide note indicated otherwise.

Comment edited 30 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
doctorbza
By doctorbza (Jul 31, 2012)

Yes, his image was taken at a refugee camp. The child was already in the best possible place considering the circumstances and Carter could not have helped further.

He caught a lot of flak because people didn't understand the circumstances under which the image was taken.

0 upvotes
JackM
By JackM (Jul 31, 2012)

Donna Ferrato - what a worthless and bad photograph.

0 upvotes
Baldhead44
By Baldhead44 (Jul 31, 2012)

Jack,

You should probably inform yourself a little about what Donna has done with her work. Her work and this photo essay in particular has saved 100's if not 1000's of women from being beaten by their spouses. There is a documentary about Donna that was done on Behind the Lens. Watch it, educate yourself and then you can retract your statement.

Here is a little start to your research.
http://donnaferrato.com/photography

Comment edited 12 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
Baldhead44
By Baldhead44 (Jul 31, 2012)

Here's a little more to get you on the right path for you research.

http://www.abuseaware.com/gallery_lisa_and_garth.php
This is the photo essay about Lisa & Garth.

0 upvotes
C.Eaton
By C.Eaton (Jul 31, 2012)

I always admired Don McCullin's war photography especially as he nearly always put himself right in the firing line to get the shot.

His images are harrowing and show man at his worst (and best) but I should imagine he had many demons in the years after the guns fell silent for him.

But at the end of the day he shot outstanding images and he couldn't have done that if he'd been an active participant in what he was seeing.

0 upvotes
doctor digi
By doctor digi (Jul 31, 2012)

Who are we to judge what should or should not be done? Each situation is unique and it is for the person there at the time to make a decision.

3 upvotes
PaulSnowcat
By PaulSnowcat (Jul 31, 2012)

The Starfish Story
Original Story by: Loren Eisley

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.

Approaching the boy, he asked, What are you doing?

The youth replied, Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die.

Son, the man said, don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You can't make a difference!

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said -
I made a difference for that one.

6 upvotes
PaulSnowcat
By PaulSnowcat (Jul 31, 2012)

I prefer to be in that boy's shoes, rather then be like that "wise" man.

0 upvotes
ARShutterbug
By ARShutterbug (Jul 31, 2012)

Hundreds of small starfish actually shouldn't be a problem for a small group of environmental conservationists. Cleaning up manmade trash and chemical waste, on the other hand, is a much bigger problem. If God doesn't like what you're doing with the starfish, He will send a jellyfish for you to step on, which is not a fun experience. I've picked up and returned to the ocean a few stranded creatures in the beach sand myself.

0 upvotes
RStyga
By RStyga (Jul 31, 2012)

In my opinion there is perhaps not much to debate about a photojournalist who snaps a photo within a matter of seconds -only if the situation allows for any delay- and then act to the extend that he/she can. I would seriously reserve any intention to agreeing in any other case.

0 upvotes
Nikono
By Nikono (Jul 31, 2012)

It is a lot of commonsense and it also depends on the situation. All photojournalists are not able to help in all situations. Sometimes it is not just possible…pretty much like in the case of wild-life photography.

1 upvote
B1ackhat
By B1ackhat (Jul 31, 2012)

If they were concerned about ethics, they wouldn't be trying to capture someone else's misery in the first place. Do you think it's ethical to capture someone's house burning down with their dead child inside? Someone's entire life has just been destroyed and there you are snapping pictures so there is a permanent reminder of someone's worst nightmare. There's nothing ethical in that.

1 upvote
meanwhile
By meanwhile (Jul 31, 2012)

If that photo causes others to get smoke detectors, or better protect their own homes from fire, then yes, there is plenty ethical in that.

2 upvotes
doctorbza
By doctorbza (Jul 31, 2012)

B1ackhat: photographing tragedy is certainly a topic worthy of serious discussion. You may want to watch the documentary "War Photographer" about James Nachtwey. It is up on youtube. Here is a link to part 1:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_vXfW94Xkc

0 upvotes
bugbait
By bugbait (Jul 31, 2012)

Its complicated.

If you haven't been in conflict you might not be equipped to follow through. If you are going to put yourself in the middle - give it up to a little skill, a heap of guts, and a whole boat load of chance; whether you walk away afterward, leave in an ambulance or meat-wagon or spend the rest of your life in prison. If you are willing to risk it all and the livelihood of your family then go in full gusto, like you REALLY bloody well mean it. That is my advise anyhow not as a journalist, but as a man that has proven he has too much in his pants and not enough in his head.

You could stare at the situation for thirty minutes and you might still not really know what is going on. But you will make your play or not in the first minute.

Like I said its complicated.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Buzzerfly
By Buzzerfly (Jul 31, 2012)

I don't believe there is a pat answer that covers all situations, and we have to adhere to the self-rules that will allow us the look in the mirror and know that you have done what is right for YOU.

0 upvotes
Paul Farace
By Paul Farace (Jul 31, 2012)

the amount of violence over the slightest things... a different tribe, a cross look, being in the wrong place when terrorists strike... you can take images, but then put the damn camera down and help someone in need. Been there, done that.

1 upvote
dad_of_four
By dad_of_four (Jul 31, 2012)

I believe the age-old debate goes something like this:
If a photographer sees a protester who has doused himself in gasoline, and is now attempting to strike a match...

What f/stop should he use?

7 upvotes
KennethKwok
By KennethKwok (Jul 31, 2012)

Good samaritan rule applies.
Not ethical to NOT render help.

Sort of, if you are in the victim's shoes,
do you want help from others?
Do you (victim) prefer a true record of your suffering/death?
Or
Do you prefer help?

0 upvotes
Thorbard
By Thorbard (Jul 31, 2012)

The problem is that stopping to help one person may prevent you taking photos which, when published, may help many, many more. Where do you draw the line?

If you want to save one person at a time, perhaps photojournalism isn't for you?

3 upvotes
B1ackhat
By B1ackhat (Jul 31, 2012)

Oh I really can't wait to hear this. How is snapping photos of say, someone's house burning down with their child inside going to "help many, many more"? Unless you're snapping a photo of a mass arsonist, I don't get it. Do you think your photo is somehow going to enlighten people in a way that saves countless others? Dream on.

2 upvotes
AlbertSiegel
By AlbertSiegel (Jul 31, 2012)

By running into a burning house, you may become another person to rescue and avert efforts from saving that child. One can assume there is another person there to inform you that there is a child in the house. Why do they not help? Unless the child is popping out of a window in which case there is no need to run in but grab or catch him from the outside, there would be another person there to make the rescue.

The photographs may actually be of help later for an investigation that may lead to a change that would prevent the same thing from happening again.

This is really a stupid argument though and the vast majority of people will just stand by and wait for trained professionals to help.

There is no way you can judge this situation unless you are in it.

0 upvotes
Thorbard
By Thorbard (Jul 31, 2012)

In the case of a house burning down, why is the photojournalist there in the first place?

The first rule of first aid is never to endanger yourself. Running blind into a burning house with no idea of the extent of the damage or the layout is practically suicidal. Leave it for the rescue services with the training and equipment to save lives, not add to the casualty list. Intervening in a mugging or violence on the street is a good way to become a victim yourself.

0 upvotes
KennethKwok
By KennethKwok (Jul 31, 2012)

Good point.
Actually, same for journalist and any passers-by.
First, Ensure safety of self (journalist/ passers-by)
Second, Inform police as required
Third, Try to help if feasible.

If it's mob attack, I think it is ok not to sacrifice together.
Unless the journalist can confidently control the mob!
I think similar principles goes for firefighter, doctors...
The rescuer is not expected to die together or suffer severe injuries.

1 upvote
Mugundhan
By Mugundhan (Jul 31, 2012)

I think the issue is not just confined to photographers. When people come across of a mob hitting somebody, primal fear roars up. Very hard to go and interfere or stop. Atleast, the photographer had the courage to take pics
But when they they see people in a famine or so, there is no real reason as not to stop and give what you have for people to eat or carry people to a relief camp
This is not a grey area while mob attacks are definite no no for most people

But atleast they have the pictures which can be used to mobilize help or help document for future generations

0 upvotes
Total comments: 60