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Ethics in Photography

The earthquake got me thinking. As a photographer / videographer, does the question of ethics come into play when you shoot scenes from troubled spots or are you just there to document the events as it happens? The news report on CNN was filming a scene from an undisclosed location in Aceh, scene of unimaginable destruction and devastation in the last big earthquake in North Sumatra. There were people standing around dazed and confused in what seemed like a hotel car park. While everyone else seems to be quite calm, the camera chose to focus on a woman who quite obviously was deeply disturbed and was trembling and crying hysterically. Would you have chosen to depict the same scene or would you have chosen a less controversial subject matter?

Embroiled in debate over such a case was Kevin Carter, a pulitzer prize winning photographer for his photograph of a malnourish child that looked like it was about to be devoured by a poaching vulture near by. Although he never really left the child to be vulture fodder, he was placed under a lot of criticism for apparently not helping the child out. It was reported that he took his own life by choosing to die of carbon monoxide poisoning in his car leaving behind a suicide note. The true story behind the picture can be found here.

Like those people, as photographers, we wander the streets looking for interesting and unusual things to document. We see a half naked man on the ground seemingly out cold on the pavement in town. We quickly point our cameras towards the comatose man and shoot a couple of shots and then we walk away. Should we have stopped to find out if the man was alright before walking away? Who’s to judge if our actions are right or wrong? That’s truly something to ponder while we wander the streets.  In this matter, I offer no judgement only observation.

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