On Dignity ...

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by Annamas, Aug 15, 2009.

  1. Annamas

    Annamas TPF Noob!

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    I'm not sure where I stand on this subject, I'm somewhere in the middle. Here's the story.

    I was driving around town about a week ago with my mom (she is moving back to Thunder Bay, but normally lives in Toronto, so I have not seen her in some time). We were hunting for a place for a great sunset shot, and a fish sculpture I saw in a FlickR group. My mom is a hobby photographer with an advanced Olympus point and shoot, and admires my DSLR. She is thinking about making the jump to a Canon DSLR we were talking about my wish list of lenses, citing a lens for people / street photography, and then the debate started.

    She believes that street photography / candid shots were a violation of a person’s privacy and dignity. When the subject knew they were being photographed, there was not an issue. However, when the subject had no idea that they were being photographed she was adamant that it was an invasion of privacy.

    I know that legally speaking, in most places, photography is acceptable in public locations. Photographs of individuals in a public location are viable, and technically speaking should a photographer snap a shot of an individual they have no responsibility to honor those individuals’ requests. The exception occurring in the event of publication or situations where the photographer can profit from the photograph.

    I was in the: “if it is in public, it is fair game” camp, while my mom was in the: “invasion of personally privacy” camp.

    Since then, two things have made me reconsider my stance. The first was reading an article by a national geographic photographer about photography and human dignity. The name of the author escapes me, but it was in a book I had purchased and later returned. The just of the article is that regardless of the situation, the author / photographer always placed human dignity over photography and when possible would not take advantage of the human condition. The two examples he cited were a young girl who had been repeatedly raped by Malaysian pirates, who he came across on a beach after a natural disaster of some sort. Instead of photographing her in this vulnerable state, he provided assistance to her. The second example was that of a woman who was suffering from starvation / dehydration in an African country. She was nude, and as such as she passed out, the photographer covered her up. Other photographers at the time blamed him for “ruining the composition of the shot”.

    The other thing that has made me reconsider was a photo posted in the “People Forums” of a man who fell asleep at a desk in a library. I stopped and thought, did he know he was being shot? Who has shot me without me knowing? Is there a picture of me somewhere on the web that I don’t know about?

    I had an idea of a collection of photographs. Thunder Bay is the center point in Canada, and if you plan do drive from the West to the East or vice versa, you have to go through this city. As such we have a large vagrant / hitchhiker population. Many of them find cardboard and scribble “Will work for food”, “Spare Change needed”, et cetera. At first I thought it would be really cool to get pictures of these people in black and white, dressed in their punk like outfits. In mind it’s a striking image. But now I’m slightly ashamed of the thought.

    So, I’m curious what you all think. Where do you draw the line between photographic art and human dignity? When does photography ethically invade a persons privacy?
     
  2. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    An expectation of privacy while in public is obsurd. The man in the library is a good case in point. His own actions placed him in an undignified position, not the photographer that made the image. Many other people will remember him in their minds eye.

    The transients/hitchhikers with their signs purposely call attention to themselves. I suspect many would be flattered to be photographed.

    To assuage your fears, just ask for their permission.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2009
  3. usayit

    usayit No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Exactly.

    People who expect privacy at all times generally have personal issues with themselves... (no offense)
     
  4. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    This isn't about dignity as much as being a decent human. If someone was passed out and looking bad then taking a photograph of the person wouldn't be on my list of priorities, helping them would. (This comes into the media photographers are "vultures" bit). After all the vast majority of us are out to take nice interesting of funny photos, not photograph people at their most vulnerable like paparazzi.

    Ok with this in mind, there probably is a picture of you somewhere doing something stupid, and do you know what, I'm sure people saw you doing that stupid thing long before someone thought it was worth preserving the moment. How many people do you think walked past the person asleep before someone stopped to take a photo of him? Was he ashamed that someone saw him asleep on the desk? Then why would he be ashamed if someone took a photo? Simple rule is don't do anything you'd be ashamed of if the guy on the corner selling news papers saw.

    It's not about fair game. You lose every expectation of privacy outside your own walls because someone can see you. Whether or not someone takes a photo of it is entirely irrelevant, and being a decent human being is a completely different though.

    If there is an embarrassing picture of you on the net somewhere, smile, you've been caught, accept it, after all someone saw it before they photographed it and what if they themselves have a photographic memory :)
     
  5. Joves

    Joves No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Well Im in the fair game camp to a point. I have shot photos though of the occassional drunk passed out on the street and, some of them getting arrested. THere a certain things I may not shoot or, I may but not show anyone.
     
  6. manaheim

    manaheim Jedi Bunnywabbit Staff Member Supporting Member

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    hah... odd to read this and find reference to the pic I took (the dude passed out at the law library) :lol:

    I think you're talking about quite an extreme range of circumstances... girl near-dead on the beach raped by pirates... guy snoozing comfortably in a pleasant environment chair with his nice new clothes and new balance sneakers.

    Were it me, I think I might have helped the girl on the beach and blown off that particular shot. With the dude in the library I was mostly concerned he'd wake up and I'd have to make some excuse for having a camera pointed at him. :lol:

    Don't get me wrong... I think this is a great question and good to explore... particularly well before you get into the situation. Best to know your personal boundaries ahead of time. As for what the "right" boundaries are, all we have is what is legal and what is not... it's hard to say what is right and wrong.
     
  7. astrostu

    astrostu I shoot for the stars

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    I think in a most basic sense, if you are in PUBLIC you should not have an expectation of PRIVACY. And then dignity is in the eye of the beholder.
     
  8. craig

    craig TPF Noob!

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    This is a very complex question without a concrete answer. Of course situations vary greatly. As a photographer you have to form your own opinion and set of ethics.

    Here in LA there is a lot of work for Paparazzi style shoots at clubs and red carpet affairs. What is that? On the beaches there are beautiful scantily clad men and women. I have yet to see a camera or cell phone shot? What is that? Both areas are clearly a public arena. Free to photograph at will...

    Love & Bass
     
  9. PhotoXopher

    PhotoXopher TPF Noob!

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    I think the only time I really have a problem with it, is when/if it were my kids someone was photographing.

    I'm protective of my kids (6, 3 and 1), and I know I can't protect them from everything but I will try. I think kids are one instance where common courtesy goes a long way. Talk to the kids' parents so they are more at ease about some stranger taking pictures of their kids (heck, they might even want to buy some prints).

    I've argued this in the past elsewhere so that's all I'll say on this topic, it can get pretty heated on both sides.
     
  10. c.cloudwalker

    c.cloudwalker TPF Noob!

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    I personally prefer my subjects to know that I'm shooting them but it has nothing to do with dignity or privacy.

    Where privacy is concerned I am way more concerned with the cameras of the government and businesses that are recording just about our every move than I will ever be about some photog trying to get a few interesting shots.

    As for dignity, I'm not sure that manaheim's photo is a very good example. The guy is taking a snooze in public. If he was worried about his dignity, I think he would have gone home or back to his office.

    And manaheim, if the guy had awakened, all you had to do is say thank you.

    The two cases talked about by the NG photographers are a little tougher. As an ex-photojournalist my job was to take those photos because they tell the story and by telling the story you may actually help those people more than by not taking the photo. But NG is not a hard news publication and maybe the photographers can get away with not taking some of these photos. It is however a documentary photography type publication and if those photos were to help the story, he should have shot them.

    What would be interesting to know about this story is: 1/ did he already have enough similar photos and, 2/ how long after these experiences did he quit? Not making fun or being flip. I know first hand, having spend more than ten years photographing wars and civil unrest, how the job can eventually get to you. It did to me and I quit. Are you familiar with George Rodger? He was a great photographer and he was also known as a humanitarian. Probably because of his experiences as a photographer.

    He was the first photographer to go into Bergen-Belsen in 45. It was his last war job when he realized that he had just spend two hours "looking for graphically pleasing compositions of the piles of bodies."

    I will end with this quote from him: "You must feel an affinity for what you are photographing. You must be part of it, and yet remain sufficiently detached to see it objectively. Like watching from the audience a play you already know by heart." As he and I know, easier said than done.
     
  11. Torus34

    Torus34 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Let's see if I can approach this from a somewhat different direction. And let's first agree that a picture can be posed and still carry a full sense of immediacy. I place into evidence the WWII picture of US marines raising the flag on a Pacific island.

    The next step is to agree that the final picture is, essentially, a representation of the vision of the photographer. [Yup, the 'vision' thing.]

    So, if you've visualized the finished picture and if you wish to insure that your actions are fully ethical, ask the person's permission before taking the picture(s). One way to gain acceptance is to explain what you're doing and, more importantly, why.

    Getting a subject to cooperate may include forwarding a print to him/her. It's a small price to pay if the picture is worth making in the first place.

    Interacting with a subject in order to reach your pictorial goal should be a part of your skill set as a photographer. As with most skills, practice will improve your command of it.

    Addendum: Looping back to the IP title, the dignity of the subject and the dignity of the photographer is preserved in toto by the simple act of asking permission.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2009
  12. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    What if it would have made an amazing photograph showing how much work a person has to do in their life to survive and that sometimes a quiet moment in the library is the only chance they get for a break?

    That may not have been the case, but then again, photography can be the most realistic lie ever seen by the human eye.

    Anyways, there's so many security cameras, redlight photographs, etc... that if you're pissed off at a photographer for shooting some one in public, then you should also go visit ever law enforcement angency and demand they delete what ever photos/surviellance that may have your likeness on it.
     

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