Privacy; we all want it most of the time but with the case of ‘street photography’, the ethics of the photography of those in public spaces must be addressed. With the increasing surge in popularity of ‘Smartphone Journalism’ and a correlating popularity spike in street photography, the question of what is ethical arises. Even though it’s in a public place and totally legal, should we use that photo even if someone in it requests it be deleted?
It’s a hard thing to do, because maybe the shot means something to you, or you think that it’s one of the best you’ve taken, it completely encapsulates what you wanted to achieve with the photograph. But then someone notices you taking pictures in their direction, they come over and ask that you delete your image of them. Do you do it? Well, legally, as long as it’s a public space with no signs specifically banning photography, then it’s okay, but it’s the moral question that we have to ask.
Blogger and photographer Joerg Colberg published a piece of the ethics involved in street photography. He takes the stance that we should accept the requests of the subjects who’s photo we’ve taken, because for all we know, your photo could harm that persons life in some way. Joerg brings up the often ignored aspect of invasive photography within our society: the Paparazzi.
This profession is renowned for its invasive, ruthless, indecent, and immoral methods of capturing their targets image. The use of said photographs is also open to debate of morality. With the Paparazzi, the question of what the photo is for is without question: money. Money, whether you’re making it for the photo or not, is important in the process of deciding whether it’s moral to publish that image.
The most relevant and controversial form of photography is often ‘street photography’. It’s from street photography that most concerns over the morality of the photographer arises. Photography blogger Eric Kim talks about why he thinks most street photographers are practicing a possible immoral activity, saying: “I see many aspiring street photographers on the web who merely take photos of homeless people down on their luck and label their images as ‘street photography.’ If you decide to take photos/portraits of homeless people, try to get to know them as human beings.”
What does Eric mean by this? Well, photographers in the past have been accused of merely standing by and watching in situations where it’s generally considered they should have helped. The most famous case that comes to mind is the ‘Vulture stalking the child’:
The photographer that took this photo is Kevin Carter. Carter came under fire when he revealed he had stood watching the vulture for 20 mins “waiting for it to spread its wings”, many claiming that he should have helped the child instead of waiting to get the right photograph. Due to the fire Carter came under, he committed suicide 3 months later.
This is relevant to Eric Kim’s quote about getting to know the subject/helping them, instead of using them for a good picture.
This all boils down to the argument of whether the ends justify the means. Many photographers will argue that the change that a photograph (such as the ‘vulture stalks the child’) may induce, outweighs the means of producing it. Others would argue the exact opposite. In the end, the question of morality is taken case by case. Anyone aspiring to take pictures in public that include human beings must have the questions of ‘Is this moral?’ & ‘Will this photograph do more help than I can give right now?’ in the forefront of their mind, lest photography become an immoral profession, looked down upon by society.
Till next time,