Ethics and law in street photography is something that can create a lot of confusion and debate in the community. No matter how well you know the law, you’ll often come upon situations that will be new to you. Also, not everything is black and white in street photography: sometimes even lawful things can still be unethical. To help you answer the most common questions on the law and ethics in street photography, Sean Tucker has filmed yet another fantastic video. He interviewed Nick Dunmur, a member of the legal team at the Association of Photographers (AOP), who will help you deal with anything that might be baffling you.
A group of boys in Baraboo, WI assembled for a junior prom photo and posed with a Nazi salute. One of the boys posted the image to Twitter with the caption “We even got the black kid to throw it up.” In the midst of public outrage, it was revealed that a professional photographer not only took the image, but directed them to “wave goodbye.”
With the recent polemics surrounding a certain image that won a photography competition this week, I feel like we need to talk about travel photography. About people photography, in our case. And to set up boundaries as to what’s acceptable in both cases. Honestly, in my opinion, it’s a matter of common sense – but it seems that’s not enough. We still witness some shocking scenes in the world of travel photography these days.
Let me be clear: My goal isn’t to attack or criticise any specific, or specific group, of photographers. I don’t know these people. I’ve never met them. But the whole circus that events such as these have created is, in my book, very disturbing, which is why I feel it’s important to discuss the topic in general.
Street photography is important, versatile, and in my opinion – one of the most challenging genres there is. But there are some problems with street photography that largely revolve around ethics. In his latest video, Jamie Windsor talks about these problems and discusses the situations when it’s best not to pick up your camera.
When the Lyon-based Émile Cohl art school wanted to advertise in the U.S., they published a group photo of their students on the American version of the website. But it all got terribly wrong when they were busted for photoshopping the students’ skin to make it appear darker. Apparently, it was an attempt to “add diversity” to the image, and the school got under fire when a former student tweeted the two versions of the image.
The ethics of photography is certainly a topic worth discussing. Are there times when we should just put our cameras down for the sake of being ethical? Or is it photographers’ job to document human suffering, pain, and accidents? This is the topic that Sean McCrossan, of When Will I Learn?, discusses in this video. So, when is it time to put your camera down?
A walk on the trash mountains
My eyes are filled with tears, because of the smoke. The plastic-particles in the air are itching in my lungs. I am climbing this mountain with my two friends. The ground under my shoes feels funny. It softly cushions my steps, like fresh and loose soil, but I also tangle my feet every now and then. It is an awkward mass, this mountain of pressed trash. It consists of very different material and yet is an entity. A mountain of poison. Not only for the body, but also for the soul. And everywhere pigs! I think I have never seen so many pigs walking freely in the wild. Is that appropriate husbandry? I somehow start to understand, why some religions do resist to eat pork. If, by eating pigs, I eat what pigs ate, then abandoning might be a better choice.
I’ve wondered for a long time what it means to be an ethical landscape photographer. Sure, this field isn’t known for its wide-reaching moral dilemmas or particularly sticky situations, but the question still deserves attention. As landscape photographers, we are in a rare position to show the Earth’s most amazing places to an audience of countless people. It makes sense to me that we should do so with respect. One of the most important rules? Don’t cause harm — not in the field, and, perhaps, not even in post-production.
We’re seeing a lot of commentary triggered by the Souvid Datta episode, where he is accused of both photographing unethically, and of passing off collaged and plagiarised material as his own. This has led to a great deal of hand-wringing and upset, with many people making observations about the state of the photojournalism industry, about the awards-driven nature of certain areas of documentary photography, and so on. What nobody seems to be doing is proposing solutions.
This piece will end up with a strawman proposal aimed at making the situation better. First, however, let us clear away some underbrush.
From time to time when I read about Street Photography, or during discussions with other photographers I get to hear that Street Photographers exploit people on the street by taking pictures without asking first. This opinion raises some valid questions including the ethics in Street Photography, but also shows the double standards that we follow in the media.