Sunday, February 28, 2010

Photojournalism and personal taste

Susan Brannon
Honest photographs can have an ethical dimension when it concerns the personal ethics of the photographer. Did the photographer violate some ethical standard in the process of making the picture?

For example, take the very famous photo of the young child dying in Sudan while a vulture stands behind her, waiting. It was taken by Kevin Carter who won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo (a photo that raised a lot of money for the relief agencies). He was criticized for not helping the child; he replied there were relief workers there to do that. After receiving his Pulitzer, Kevin Carter returned to Africa and committed suicide. He had a lot of problems in his life but, with the timing of the sequence of events, I cannot help thinking there is a correlation between his photographing the child and his suicide.

This is the kind of choice all journalists will face some time in his or her career; maybe not in the extreme situation that Carter faced, but in some way, we all will be faced with choices of helping or photographing. Some day we will be at a fire or a car accident and we will be called upon to put the camera down and help. It is a good idea to think about these issues in advance because when the hour comes, it will come suddenly and we will be asked to make a choice quickly.

Here is the principle that works for me. It is not a popular one and it is one that many journalists disagree with but it allows me to sleep at night. If you have placed yourself in the position where you can help, you are morally obligated to help. I do not ask you to agree with me. I just want you to think about this and be prepared; at what point do you put the camera down and help? At what point does your humanity become more important than your journalism?

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